New Zealand starts first autonomous vehicle trials at Christchurch Airport


The arrival of a French-built fully-autonomous Navya Arma electric-powered shuttle at Christchurch Airport signals the start of New Zealand’s first on-road research trial of driverless vehicle technology.

The Arma is a 100% autonomous, driverless and electric public transport vehicle that can carry up to 15 people. The key partners in the trials are New Zealand’s leading intelligent transport system (ITS) provider, HMI Technologies, and Christchurch International Airport Limited. Other agencies involved in the trials include the University of Canterbury’s Human Interface Technology Lab, which will be working to identify ways to improve human interaction with the technology, Christchurch City Council, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and the country’s Ministry of Transport. The trials will be carried out at Christchurch Airport, initially in a closed area of road available on the airport campus. Once the safety requirements of the Arma shuttle are proven, trials are expected on public roads, under controlled arrangements. The trials are expected to start in the next few weeks at the airport and are expected to take at least two years.

Christchurch Airport’s chief executive, Malcolm Johns, said the airport team is keen to understand how autonomous shuttles might operate at the airport, and how people may 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,” Jones explained. “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.”

Dave Verma, director of Australasian driverless vehicle initiatives at HMI, said the company is involved in the vehicle trial for three key reasons. “Firstly, as an intelligent transport systems innovator, our R&D and business development teams will get vital hands-on experience. We also hope the trial will prove the efficacy of autonomous vehicles to commercial operators like Christchurch Airport, and to government decision makers. Additionally, we want the New Zealand public and students to have the opportunity to participate and provide feedback on the experience. HMI sees that the AV vehicle technology is emerging at a rapid pace and there are opportunities for New Zealand to be at the forefront of this technology. We are an established operator and innovator in the intelligent transport systems industry, so are well positioned to be an early adopter and facilitator for trials and commercial applications.”

HMI’s new CEO, Stephen Matthews, said, “This trial marks a new era for us. Building on our impressive reputation as an ITS innovator, with this trial and more to come, the business is positioning itself as a global leader at the forefront of the paradigm shift in transport technology.”

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said, “Autonomous electric vehicles are part of our future. They are coming, ready or not, and I’d rather be ready. The significance of attracting this project to Christchurch at this time cannot be overstated. This is an incredibly exciting time in our history.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).