Will Canada pass on this unique opportunity?

Cugnot’s Fardier and the “Jamais Contente” have each made their mark on the history of the automobile industry by becoming respectively the first combustion engine vehicle in 1771 and the first electric vehicle to exceed 100 km/h in 1899.

A new era and a different paradigm: automobile manufacturers having pushed sales using “the driving experience” for several decades, are they now trying to create a demand for the “self-drive” experience?  The driving experience is about to become secondary with the latest technological advancements. Autonomous vehicles (AV) are undeniably among us!

The Google car and the Mercedes-Benz F015, to name a few, are two “autonomous” vehicles authorized to operate on public roads in several American states. Several projects have started or will be started in Europe. CityMobil 2 in which electrical autonomous low speed shuttles are tested in La Rochelle, in France; also, the city of Milton Keynes, in England, will be experimenting with low-speed electric pods. The number sites and projects are multiplying and several countries, states and municipalities wish to become leaders in this field.

In Canada, no project of remotely similar ambition has been concretely defined. With its Nordic climate and its proximity to the United States, Canada is the ideal testing ground for the harshest conditions this technology must be able to face. Several aspects are already being addressed (including regulations and insurance). However, the main challenge for Canadians, is to ensure this technology is as efficient in winter conditions as it is the almost ideal conditions where trials are currently generally conducted. We must act now to ensure that these advanced technology vehicles are technically capable of circulating in Canada in coming years and that this country’s citizens can profit from the benefits of this technology.

In several applications, AVs effectively replace traditional transportation systems such as buses or light rail as they are less expensive to operate and allow greater flexibility. The pods that have been operating on a guided roadway at Heathrow airport since 2011, are an early example of driverless technology. Since then, numerous autonomous electrical low speed shuttles have been introduced including the Navya (Induct) and the EZ 10 (Ligier group). These vehicles have not been used in extreme climatic conditions and, if they are to be used in Canada, they need to be proven.  Canadian businesses need to be involved in testing this technology and the challenges it presents.

Today, we have difficulty establishing a standardized system for electrical vehicle charging (Tesla, CHAdeMo, SAE.). How will we harmonize decisions with respect to driverless vehicles? Are decision-making algorithms infallible? In what conditions should we be using driverless vehicles? What impact will winter climatic conditions have on the navigation system? Only by real-world testing will we have concrete answers to these questions.

Canadian stakeholders must act soon as global automakers are unlikely to develop autonomous vehicles for our relatively small market given the challenges our climate represents.  Canada has a lot to offer: our expertise in robotics, optics and advanced engineering can contribute significantly to the development of this technology.

We need testing grounds or geographic areas where pilot projects can be undertaken, where vehicles can be tested. We need to encourage those involved in the development of this technology globally to undertake their winter and year-round testing here, attracting research and development activity, ensuring knowledge transfer to our engineers and software developers and setting the groundwork for tomorrow. Will Canada pass on this unique opportunity?

Photo : Shutterstock Filipe Frazao

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