R&D and innovation news : Self-driving vehicles company launches in Christchurch

Heads were turned in Christchurch today as driverless buses silently shuttled through the rebuilding city streets to showcase the launch of a world-leading self-driving vehicle technology company.

The three colourful electric shuttle buses drove around Christchurch Art Gallery as Ohmio Automotion announced plans to start producing self-driving vehicles in New Zealand.

Using technology developed by parent company HMI Technologies, the electric Ohmio Hop shuttles are described as being the world’s first “self-driving and scalable public transport solution”.

The vehicles use self-mapping artificial intelligence, which means that once they have completed their route a single time under supervision, they are able to self-drive the route over and over without external input

Four Ohmio models will be built in the next 12 months. The vehicles will range from small to large shuttles and freight pods, and will be customisable to suit the customer.

Being in New Zealand offers the new company a major advantage, HMI Technologies founder Mohammed Hikmet said today, because the government already allows testing of driverless vehicles.

“The testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles elsewhere is slowed down by legislation or requires special permits,” he said.

“That gives Ohmio an advantage as we scale up and develop our technology, especially as we understand regulations here and in Australia.”

New Zealand has a reputation for innovation, Hikmet says, which has helped Ohmio recruit international expertise.

New Zealand’s first fully autonomous electric vehicle arrived at Christchurch International Airport this year.

HMI Technologies brought the French-made Navya 15-person shuttle, which carries 15 passengers and has no steering wheel, to New Zealand.

It’s being trialled on airport grounds, and the long-term aim is to move to public roads “once the safety case has been made” and all regulatory approvals are in place.

“This could help write a regulatory framework for the roads and the signals that provide guidance to the vehicles. We can set the standards for New Zealand and the world.”

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