Self-driv­ing cars com­ing to NZ soon

South Waikato News - - MOTORING -

Don’t get too at­tached to your steer­ing wheel and brake pedal be­cause self-driv­ing cars could be hit­ting our roads sooner than you think.

The first pri­vately- owned, driver­less ve­hi­cles could start ap­pear­ing in New Zealand in as lit­tle as two years, once Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ers start bring­ing them to mar­ket, Trans­port Min­is­ter Simon Bridges says.

Bridges is in the Ger­man city of Leipzig to at­tend the In­ter­na­tional Trans­port Fo­rum’s an­nual sum­mit, where a lot of the talk has been about the rapid pace of driver­less car tech­nol­ogy and how it could dramatically re­duce the num­ber of ve­hi­cles clog­ging up our roads.

Alexander Do­brindt, the Ger­man Fed­eral Min­is­ter of Trans­port, ar­rived at the sum­mit on Wed­nes­day in a self-driv­ing BMW and pre­dicted the tech­nol­ogy would start rolling off Ger­man as­sem­bly lines as soon as 2017.

‘‘In just a few years’ time, what is com­pletely dig­i­tal will be com­pletely nor­mal,’’ he said.

Audi, BMW and Google are among those de­vel­op­ing the tech­nol­ogy.

Bridges said wide­spread use of self-driv­ing cars in New Zealand was still some way off, as Ki­wis would be ‘‘ tech­nol­ogy tak­ers’’ rather than de­vel­op­ers. ‘‘But that said, and while I’m not say­ing it will hap­pen like this, I wouldn’t be sur­prised that if in the next two or three years . . . there will be those who try to bring them to New Zealand, and good on them. That will be some­thing we need to be ready for.’’

ITF Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Jose Vie­gas did not think New Zealand’s dis­tance from Europe would hin­der the spread of self-driv­ing cars to our shores. If the cost could be kept down and in­sur­ance com­pa­nies were open to the idea, then that would pro­vide the stim­u­lus.

ITF cor­po­rate part­ner­ship board manager Sharon Master­son said Bridges had ex­pressed in­ter­est in New Zealand be­com­ing a test­bed for self-driv­ing cars in the com­ing years. ‘‘ The mes­sage has been that New Zealand is open for busi­ness, and that open­ness is im­por­tant.’’

Taxi-bots and auto-vots

The In­ter­na­tional Trans­port Fo­rum, a global think-tank for trans­port pol­icy, un­veiled the re­sults of a ma­jor study into the im­pact of self-driv­ing cars at its sum­mit on Thurs­day.

It dis­cov­ered that a fleet of self­driv­ing, shared cars could make 90 per cent of con­ven­tional cars in a mid-sized city su­per­flu­ous.

Re­searchers used ac­tual trans­port data from Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal to model the im­pact of two types of self- driv­ing cars: those shared si­mul­ta­ne­ously by sev­eral pas­sen­gers, dubbed Tax­iBots, and those that pick-up and drop- off sin­gle pas­sen­gers, known Au­toVots.

It found that a large- scale up­take of Tax­iBots, in con­junc­tion with high- ca­pac­ity public trans­port, would re­move nine out of ev­ery 10 cars from the road with­out hin­der­ing peo­ple’s mo­bil­ity.

Even in the least ef­fec­tive sce­nario – Au­toVots op­er­at­ing with­out sup­port from high-ca­pac­ity public trans­port – 50 per cent of cars would no longer be needed.

The need for on-street park­ing would also be to­tally re­moved, free­ing up 1.5 mil­lion square me­tres, or 210 foot­ball fields, of road space for other uses.

Never get drunk or tired

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Sarah Hunter, head of public pol­icy at Google’s tech­nol­ogy devel­op­ment fa­cil­ity Google[ x], said the world was on the cusp of hav­ing cars and planes that re­quired no in­ter­ac­tion from hu­mans at all, apart from in­putting a des­ti­na­tion. ‘‘It can take you from A to B with­out you ever be­ing in­volved. In fact, it’s so au­ton­o­mous, it doesn’t re­quire a steer­ing wheel or brake.’’

Such ve­hi­cles would dramatically re­duce the num­ber of road ac­ci­dents, which statis­tics showed were 94 per cent down to hu­man er­ror.

‘‘It’s not the car that brakes, it’s the hu­man that doesn’t brake,’’ she said. ‘‘[Self-driv­ing cars] never get drunk, they never get tired, they never get dis­tracted by a text mes­sage.’’

Self- driv­ing cars would also im­prove the qual­ity of life for many, in­clud­ing the blind and el­derly who can­not drive.

‘‘But, broader than that, I think there are new free­doms cur­rently unimag­in­able that au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy will make avail­able to all of us. What if we had meet­ings from the car? Would we sleep in the car? What dif­fer­ence would it make to our pro­duc­tiv­ity, and what dif­fer­ence would it make to our day-to-day living with stress when we don’t have to sit in traf­fic for two hours a day?’’

In just a few years’ time, what is com­pletely dig­i­tal will be com­pletely nor­mal. – Ger­man Trans­port Min­is­ter

Alexander Do­brindt

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