Australia could be the production base of a new line of autonomous self-driving vehicles, Kiwi company HMI Technologies has revealed.
HMI launched its Ohmio driverless vehicle brand in Christchurch earlier this week with plans to release a number of models including a minibus sized passenger vehicle and freight pod over the next two years.
The Kiwi company aims to be the leading manufacturer for autonomous vehicles in the Asia-Pacific region, and is considering they be built in Australia.
“Depending on where the demand is it could be that the vehicles are manufactured complete in Australia or it could be that they are assembled there,” the company’s group chief executive Stephen Matthews told Computerworld.
The autonomous vehicles currently being used in trials in Australia – such as New South Wales’ first ‘smart shuttle’ bus trial at Olympic Park in Sydney and RAC’s Intellibus in Perth – come from French manufacturers.
"That's really part of the reason we decided to do this,” CEO of HMI Technologies in Australian, Dean Zabrieszach told Computerworld. “We figure that this part of the world, the Asia-Pacific region, could do with a manufacturer. And obviously Australia and New Zealand is a good place for that.”
HMI owns three vehicles imported from France-based company Navya which it uses in a number of trials, including at Christchurch Airport and later this year at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
“We introduced for them to learn what their capabilities are, what their advantages and disadvantages are, so governments can make decisions in the medium term about the use of such vehicles on roads. But it wasn’t about HMI selling Navya or being a distributor to the market,” Zabrieszach said.
The use of HMI’s locally-made vehicles could help reduce the cost and complexity of running autonomous vehicles trials in Australia.
“For us to get an approved route for the Navya product, we have to submit the route to Navya in France, it takes about three weeks to get approval for that process. And we pay a handsome sum for them to conduct that process for us. It’s a significant amount of money,” Matthews explains.
“Whereas our vehicle we drive it on the route we want to go and it’s ready to go. Deployment should be more immediate.”
There are four Ohmio vehicle types planned to suit various use cases. Ohmio will initially be targeted at commercial campuses, airports, city centre precincts, amusement parks and retirement villages. The company said the vehicles will be among the first that are able to form a ‘connected convoy’.
Fully operational prototypes of the electric Ohmio Hop were demonstrated at Christchurch Art Gallery earlier this week. The production vehicles are currently being designed and built.
Purchasers of the vehicles will also receive guidance from HMI about how to legally operate them on public roads, the company said. In the coming months, Ohmio will begin taking pre-orders, allowing clients to customise vehicles to their end-users, for example with added luggage space or features for mobility-impaired passengers.
“Ohmio will transform urban and hyper-local transport solutions. The Ohmio Hop vehicles are fully electric and designed to be a last mile solution, carrying people and their luggage short distances, providing the last mile connection to or from transport hubs or mass transit options,” Matthews added.
“This development will mean that people might no longer need to rely on their private vehicles, and that makes a whole community better off, by reducing congestion, pollution, and of course the cost and grief associated with traffic accidents and it is those benefits which motivated us to create Ohmio.”