Investments into the development of driverless car technology has received a big boost after the provincial government announced it will allow self-driving vehicles to be tested on Ontario’s roads as part of a pilot project starting in January.
The region will play a key role in testing and rolling out that technology and will reap economic benefits as a result, according to Cambridge MPP Kathryn McGarry, parliamentary assistant to Ontario Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca. The automated car pilot project was made public at the University of Waterloo on Tuesday (Oct. 13).
The MPP said the region is home to companies poised to assist with everything from robotics to information technology that could help develop sensors and equipment used in the cars, but also in the infrastructure on roads needed to make the technology work.
During the past decade, the race has been on between developers to build self-driving vehicles that can navigate roads and detect dangers from surrounding traffic using artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system co-ordinates.
A fully qualified operator is still required to remain in the driver’s seat to take over the wheel in case intervention is needed.
American states, including California, have allowed driverless cars to be tested in real situations.
Ontario will be the first province in Canada to permit the automatic cars to undergo testing on live roads. Enacting legislation to allow testing under a pilot program will provide companies with much-needed opportunities to develop the technology as it evolves, maintains McGarry. “This is the thing we needed next,” she said. “This is good news for anyone needing the next phase of development in terms of test piloting.”
Driverless cars involved in testing won’t be marked as test vehicles, noted McGarry, so drivers on the road won’t necessarily know when they’re in operation.
While the concept of a driverless car seems too futuristic to become a reality any time soon, McGarry noted the technology isn’t as far off as some might think. Don’t expect the hands-off technology to clear the way for carte-blanche for poor driver behaviour, however, warns the MPP.
A driver operating a self-driving vehicle is still governed by the laws under the Highway Traffic Act, she said. That means drivers can still be charged with distracted driving or driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As part of the announcement, the provincial government pledged $500,000 in funding to the Ontario Centres of Excellence Connected Vehicle/Automatic Vehicle Program.
Those funds are in addition to $2.45 million in funding recently provided to help academics and business in the development of automatic car technology.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Evolution Institute has saluted the Minister for demonstrating that Ontario's government has understood the upcoming revolution in mobility. " Ontario can reposition itself to take advantage of these trends and stimulate its economy. The journey towards transport automation has already begun but up to now few governments have had the courage to acknowledge it and rise to this challenge. On behalf of the Province of Ontario, Minister Del Duca just announced that his province joins the race and that it must be a member of the leading pack.
The Transportation Evolution Institute has been announcing that a new mobility model is currently emerging in many regions of the world: a model that is cleaner, integrates more efficiently all modes of transportation and is part of the "sharing economy". This new model is not based solely on the availability of new technology but is driven mostly by the need for reduced air pollution, improved safety and increased transportation network efficiencies. The new model would also lower travel costs for our citizens and transportation infrastructure costs for our cities and provinces.