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Smart transport - Local Government Perspectives 2017

Intelligent transport systems continue to gain ground in New Zealand.

Peter McCombs, Chair, Intelligent Transport Systems New Zealand

It was pleasing to see so many cities and regions represented amongst the packed attendance at the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) New Zealand summit held at the Aotea Centre in Auckland last October. This proved to be our largest ever conference with 160 delegates hearing presentations from 20 national and international speakers discussing the latest progress and technology with autonomous vehicles, freight, public transport, big data and cyber security.

The summit coincided with the week-long ISO TC204 Technical Committee meetings being held in Auckland, part of ITS New Zealand’s contribution to the international direction of ITS. The TC204 meetings help establish global standards for ITS and were hosted by ITS New Zealand in the lead up to the ITS World Congress, with over 120 international experts setting technical specifications for all aspects of ITS.

Also taking place in October was the ITS World Congress in Melbourne. Hosted by ITS Australia and ITS Asia Pacific, the congress drew some 11,500 delegates from over 70 countries including 160 from New Zealand. In the main exhibit hall, ITS New Zealand had a booth supported by the Ministry of Transport, NZTA, Beca and NEC which showcased New Zealand as a test bed and promoted our expertise and local achievements.

Feedback from each of the events has been positive, with ITS New Zealand members building useful relationships and sharing our expertise with international ITS experts, peers and innovators.

Innovative technologies

Autonomous vehicles and drones capture headlines and are a macro-level concern for the government, the Ministry of Transport, NZTA and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). New Zealand continues to be a world leader in preparing for these new technologies. Our open economy and open bureaucracy mean that we can adapt quickly to make the most of these technologies and the government is actively promoting New Zealand as an attractive destination with few restrictions in which to trial new ITS technologies.

The Ministry of Transport is making progress on its Action Plan that aims to ensure New Zealand benefits from ITS technologies, to make our transport system effective, efficient, safer and more resilient. It is also creating a regulatory framework, taking care to ensure this is not an unnecessary barrier to innovation. In the past 12 months the Ministry has released guidelines for testing autonomous vehicles in New Zealand and the CAA has created rules for unmanned aerial vehicles.

A semi-autonomous Volvo SUV was recently demonstrated in Tauranga, and New Zealand’s first fully-autonomous vehicle trial was recently announced. The trial will be run in partnership between Auckland-based ITS innovators HMI Technologies and Christchurch Airport. The trial will use a driverless shuttle bus and operate on private roads around the airport.

Meanwhile attention-grabbing Tesla electric vehicles with semi-autonomous autopilot mode are already growing in number on our roads, and this will continue to increase as Tesla announced it will open a dealership in New Zealand.

ITS in action around New Zealand

While driverless cars are currently far from becoming commonplace, bigger gains are being made from ITS technologies that are improving transport networks in other ways and projects that have gone live in the past 12 months range from a large-scale Smart Motorway to new standalone sensors and signs.

Wellington’s Smart Motorway from Ngaraunga to Aotea Quay combines continuous monitoring, automated signage and an Advanced Traffic Management System, the key aim of which is to influence traffic speeds depending on the level of congestion and keep traffic free-flowing. Detectors under the road and radars monitor traffic numbers and the system uses that data and trends to calculate the rate of congestion.

LED signs include lane control signs to display speeds or close lanes and VMS (variable message signs) which relay alerts about delays to keep drivers informed and focused. The Smart Motorway also has sensors and cameras to monitor emergency stopping areas so staff can react quickly.

On the winding SH29 over the Kaimai ranges, which links the Bay of Plenty to Waikato, LED variable speed signs are also in use. Here they are integrated with a weather station and cameras which relay information to NZTA, which can change enforceable speed limits depending on the weather, or in the case of an incident.

The Visiting Drivers Project has been an ongoing focus for NZTA and stakeholders within the tourism industry. In a world-first trial of its kind, the HMI Technologies’ RouteTIP system sought to use ITS technology developed in New Zealand to help improve safety and provide traveller information. The trial saw 60 solar-powered beacons installed on the roadside between Christchurch and Queenstown.

The beacons would communicate with road users via devices installed in 50 rental cars. Alerts from the devices are audio-only, minimising driver distraction, while providing journey time information and safety reminders.

In an example of technology protecting important infrastructure and improving safety, the over-height vehicle detection system protecting the Penrose overbridge on Auckland’s Southern Motorway has been upgraded with improved sensors and dynamic signage, and is integrated with the DYNAC traffic management system.

ITS on the horizon

Nearly all Roads of National Significance (RoNS) and major transport infrastructure projects now include an element of ITS. The $1.4 billion Waterview project in Auckland will open in 2017 with several ITS-derived safety technologies being used to ensure the tunnels are secure and safe, and that traffic flows smoothly. The tunnels are controlled by an integrated tunnel management system which will interface with existing operations systems. A deluge system capable of dumping a significant amount of water will be used to fight any tunnel fires, while CCTV monitors traffic flow and activity.

With the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds (SHPG) testing facility outside Queenstown, we have already proven that New Zealand can provide world-class facilities for testing. The announcement that an autonomous vehicle trial has been planned for Christchurch is exciting for the public and the ITS industry. The hope is that it will spur innovators and decision-makers to see that New Zealand can participate in developing trials and technology to support new technology such as autonomous vehicles.

ITS New Zealand will continue supporting adoption of technology to make transport systems through New Zealand safer, more efficient and sustainable. We will continue to coordinate informative events featuring experts from New Zealand and abroad, providing value to our members by connecting them with our international networks so they can identify innovations and best practice solutions.

This article was first published in Local Government Perspectives 2017.

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