Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Expert predicts self-drive cars on NZ roads within a year

Hundreds of driverless cars are predicted to be seen on New Zealand's roads, and at one of our biggest airports, by the end of next year.

NZTech head Graeme Muller said the Government was doing well at opening up opportunities for testing the new technology, but said we needed to set higher goals if New Zealand wanted to be world leaders.

"I would predict that by the end of 2017 there will actually be hundreds of driverless vehicles in New Zealand at various stages of trail and commercial operation," Muller said.

A driverless transport shuttle will soon be zipping around the grounds of Christchurch Airport - with future plans to have autonomous vehicles transport passengers.

The two-year research trial of a French-built Navya shuttle will largely take place at Christchurch International Airport from next year.

Muller called this announcement "great news" for New Zealand.

"Driverless vehicle technology is developing at such a rapid pace that many cities around the world are already piloting the technology."

The driverless 15-seat passenger transport shuttle will at first be driven on private roads with no public present, and have a long-term aim of moving to public roads.

The vehicle is fully autonomous, has no steering wheel and is electric powered.

New Zealand company HMI Technologies and Christchurch International Airport are running the trial together.

The airport's general manager of corporate affairs, Michael Singleton, said the airport is interested in using the technology to link up areas around the airport campus.

"We hope to eventually see autonomous vehicles operating in and around the airport. Before that could happen, we want to understand the infrastructure and operating requirements for these vehicles, to understand the human/technology interface and to build the safety case for autonomous vehicles on our campus."

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the first research trial of a driverless electric shuttle would provide "invaluable" information about the vehicle and potential uses in New Zealand.

The University of Canterbury, Christchurch City Council, the NZ Transport Agency and the Ministry of Transport would also be involved in the trial.

"Our supportive regulation around testing autonomous vehicles, enabling new technology to be tested while protecting public safety, have helped make this trial possible," Bridges said.

"Autonomous vehicles are an important part of the future of transport and offer potential safety, efficiency and environmental benefits."

Former Secretary for Transport Martin Matthews will oversee the trial.

- NZ Herald

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