Candiac Keolis Canada autonomous shuttle
An autonomous shuttle. Photo: Keolis Canada

The National Academic Cluster for Smart Vehicles is set to receive investment from research institutions, private sector and federal government

Despite expansive public transit networks in many parts of the country, a number of Canadians still live in areas in which local transit hubs are accessible only by car. “First-kilometre/last-kilometre” solutions aim to find transit strategies that bring passengers from their home to their destination without any gaps, thereby reducing the amount of single-occupancy vehicles used daily.

In order to address this problem, the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) has announced the establishment of a new collaborative research initiative aimed at improving autonomous shuttle technology, which it says has serious potential to provide first-kilometre/last-kilometre transit solutions.

“Smart electric shuttles can provide the flexibility and cost efficiency needed to get Canadians to a transit hub”

– Josipa Petrunic, Executive Director and CEO, CUTRIC

The National Academic Cluster for Smart Vehicles (NAC-SV), according to CUTRIC, aims to standardize technology for autonomous and connected vehicles used in transit and mass mobility. Doing so would allow for communication between small autonomous shuttles and transit vehicles and infrastructure, development of software to manage digitized shuttle fleets, and use of standardized charging systems.

“These shuttles service Canadians by filling a critical gap in our transit system and providing a much-needed service on routes that are too small to justify a bus route,” said Josipa Petrunic, executive director and CEO of CUTRIC, at the announcement of the cluster.

“Smart electric shuttles can provide the flexibility and cost efficiency needed to get Canadians to a transit hub.”

NAC-SV also aims to ensure that the technology used will have multi-manufacturer interoperability, so that shuttles operated by different cities and transit authorities can be deployed on the same routes.  

Public, private partners

The cluster has received over $1.1 million in funding, $797,900 of which is supplied by CUTRIC and its members, and $306,500 of which comes from Mitacs’ federally funded Accelerate and Elevate programs.

Project partners include academic institutions, transit authorities and private entities, such as ABB, Bombardier, Kingston Transit, London Transit, Carleton University, University of Windsor, University of Toronto, and several others.

The announcement was made at the University of Windsor, where Irek Kusmierczyk, Member of Parliament for Windsor-Tecumseh, spoke to the significance the project holds to the Windsor-Essex region.

“The establishment of a National Academic Cluster for Smart Vehicles at the University of Windsor will position our region at the forefront of research-industry collaboration that is developing cutting edge public transit and mobility solutions,” said Kusmierczyk.

“This investment will advance environmental sustainability and help develop the talent necessary in Windsor-Essex to accelerate our local and national clean tech sector, drive job creation and fuel our region’s prosperity.”

A City of Beaumont video featuring, ELA, western Canada’s First autonomous shuttle pilot in mixed traffic.

The establishment of NAC-SV follows a wave of recent Canadian research announcements in the field of electrified and autonomous transport. In February, the Toronto Region Board of Trade published an in-depth report on the importance of autonomous vehicle deployment to the Toronto region. Shortly before that, CUTRIC announced a separate research cluster dedicated to optimizing electric bus technology for use by municipal transit authorities.