The future of transportation has landed at Christchurch International Airport – a future in which drivers and steering wheels are redundant.
The airport this morning launched the fully autonomous (driverless) electric shuttle bus it will be trialling on private roads around the airport campus over the coming months.
The shuttle can carry up to 15 people and has been bought by HMI Technologies, which is working with the airport to conduct New Zealand’s first trial of a fully autonomous vehicle. The trial is being supported by Christchurch City Council, the University of Canterbury and the Transport Agency.
The shuttle will be trialled initially on private roads around the airport but once its safety has been proven the trial will shift to public roads.
Mayor Lianne Dalziel is excited by the possibilities fully autonomous vehicles could bring and pleased that Christchurch - the home of innovation and creativity - is leading the way.
"Autonomous electric vehicles are part of our future. They are coming ready or not and I’d rather be ready. Christchurch has become a city of opportunity … a place where anything is possible. The significance of attracting this project to Christchurch at this time cannot be over-stated. This is an incredibly exciting time in our history,'' said Ms Dalziel, who was one of the first passengers in the French manufactured shuttle.
Speaking at the launch, Transport Minister Simon Bridges praised the Council for supporting the trial.
"You are the most tech and innovation savvy Council in New Zealand,'' Mr Bridges said. "In a number of areas you are literally leading New Zealand and I think it is fantastic.''
Mr Bridges said while the Government was not directly involved with the trial, it would be watching it closely, with great interest.
"I believe firmly the vehicle of the future ... is an autonomous or driverless electric vehicle that increasingly we won't own,'' he said.
They would be safer, more efficient, and bring significant environmental benefits.
"This is an exciting and historic day, not just for Christchurch, but for New Zealand,'' the Minister said.
Christchurch Airport Chief Executive Malcolm Johns said the airport team was keen to understand how autonomous shuttles might operate at Christchurch Airport and how people might react and interact with them.
“We can see the potential for driverless vehicles to transform and enhance mobility and transport options on the airport campus. We want to explore the possibility of deploying autonomous vehicles to assist people moving around our campus efficiently and sustainably, so we formed a partnership with HMI Technologies to consider how we might make this happen.''