While often found on the pages of science fiction novels, the self-driving car has remained a futuristic concept over the past few years. However, as the applicable technologies – such as radar and satellite navigation – develop, vehicles that navigate New Zealand's roads without human interference may not be as far off as first thought.
One of the main benefits of fully automated driving is the potential to limit accidents, as the majority of incidents involve some element of human error. The greater connectivity and reliance on technology between vehicles will likely see crash statistics slashed. However, this is, of course, dependent on whether the systems can be perfected.
Google leads the way
Developments are consistently ongoing, and they aren't necessarily exclusive to the traditional powerhouses of the automotive sector. For example, Google has already logged more than 200,000 miles in its experimental fleet of driverless vehicles, according to KPMG's research.
More on Google's driverless cars, and the technology behind them, can be seen in this video:
Attending the most recent International Transport Forum (ITF) in Germany, New Zealand's Transport Minister Simon Bridges surmised that the first privately owned driverless vehicles could be on the country's roads in as little as two years.
"I'm not saying it will happen [immediately], [but] I wouldn't be surprised that if in the next two or three years … there will be those who try to bring [driverless vehicles] to New Zealand, and good on them. That will be something we need to be ready for," Mr Bridges explained, as quoted by stuff.co.nz.
— Stuff.co.nz News (@NZStuff) May 28, 2015
According to supplementary research published by the ITF, there could be mass-produced self-driving cars on the market by 2017. However, they may hit the open road in a relatively quiet way to begin with, and not necessarily become the accepted norm until 2030.
There could be mass-produced self-driving cars on the market by 2017.
The fleet benefits
While a fully autonomous vehicle may be some way off, the potential benefits for companies running fleets are set to be endless. Accidents could be less likely, keeping vehicles in the best condition and out on the road for longer.
Moreover, while a self-driving car would still need to have someone present to fill up using a fuel card, the routes it takes could be made more efficient thanks to the global positioning system technology in particular.
In reality, driverless cars still have a long way to go before they are seen in driveways and on roads across New Zealand. Fortunately, as Mr Bridges was keen to highlight, it appears that the country will be ready and able to embrace them.