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First Self-Drive Vehicle Demonstration on NZ Roads Begins

Volvo New Zealand

The country’s first official demonstration of an autonomous vehicle using New Zealand roads takes place today.

The New Zealand Traffic Institute (Trafinz), Volvo, New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and the Ministry of Transport have come together to show how a self-driving vehicle will handle New Zealand’s road conditions, safely and efficiently.

Car manufacturer Volvo will demonstrate the technology on a 10-15km stretch of public road in Tauranga as part of the New Zealand Traffic Institute’s (Trafinz) transportation conference.

Volvo Cars NZ general manager Coby Duggan says the vehicle will self drive using sophisticated technology to navigate the road - with driver interaction only required to periodically confirm the presence of the driver.

He says during the demonstration the technology will operate at ‘level 2’ - a global standard which measures the degree of the vehicle's autonomy.

“Under level 2 or Partial Automation, the automated system executes accelerating, braking, and steering, however the driver will be required to interact with the vehicle and intervene if necessary as they are ultimately responsible for how the vehicle operates.

“By 2021 we expect Volvo’s to be at level 4 or High Automation where the system will monitor the driving environment and will maintain control even if the driver does not intervene when advised by the vehicle,” he says.

“The next stage of evolution from there is level 5 or Full Automation, by then the car has complete control under all road and environmental conditions and therefore relieves the driver of responsibility” he says.

Duggan says today’s demonstration will take place in a ‘real world’ environment with other motorists on the road.

Henrik Järlebratt, senior product director from Volvo headquarters, who will address the Trafinz conference attendees on the science behind the technology says it is heartening to see so many agencies working effectively together, creating a framework for the introduction of self driving vehicles in NZ.

“Today’s event in Tauranga is important for a number of reasons.

“Beyond showcasing how self-driving works, it demonstrates that there is the necessary level of cooperation among car makers, government agencies and industry bodies in New Zealand to allow the widespread adoption of innovative new technologies to customers,” he says.

Järlebratt says large scale autonomous driving trials are planned for England, China and Sweden next year.

“The pace of development in this field is evolving rapidly. In addition to the international trials, Volvo is also building a fleet of self driving cars for Uber which will hit US roads next year,” he says.

John Goettler the Vice President of the New Zealand Local Authority Traffic Institute (Trafinz) says the technology has real applications for the future of transport within the New Zealand roading network.

“This demonstration is a significant first milestone towards the introduction of self-drive vehicles to enhance road safety, efficiency and productivity in New Zealand.

New Zealand is an ideal location for the demonstration of self-driving technology because of our world-leading regulatory environment, which encourages trialling of new technology such as autonomous vehicles, while protecting the safety of all road users.

As the volume of these vehicles grows we also need to turn our attention to the creation of smart highways, to obtain the real benefits of this new safer, more efficient, people focused way to travel that reduces congestion and is environmentally sustainable,” says Goettler.