Canadian Tire Autonomous Vehicles NuPort
Jennifer Reardon, Associate VP, Transportation Integration and Ops Support at Canadian Tire stands in front of a vehicle fitted with NuPort’s self-driving technology.

Canadian Tire is incorporating Canadian-made autonomous technology into its vehicle fleet with a pilot program for short-haul runs between distribution centres and warehouses

Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics, a Toronto-based autonomous trucking technology developer, have partnered to launch a new automated, middle-mile trucking service.

Announced on March 11,  the partnership will see both Canadian Tire’s diesel-powered and electric semi-tractor trailers retrofitted with features like automated driving capabilities, high-tech sensors, obstacle and collision avoidance technology, and touchscreen navigation, all while still being attended by a driver.

NuPort CEO and co-founder Raghavender Sahdev says these features — which according to the company haven’t yet been used anywhere worldwide — will help drivers be more efficient, while also increasing safety. Sahdev says in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada the goal is have zero accidents.

“Our sensors basically form a safety cocoon around the truck. They have a clear 360-degree coverage, so they don’t miss any blind spots.”

Raghavender Sahdev, CEO, NuPort Robotics

“When these drivers are driving the trucks, [they] need to be alerted if there’s some immediate obstacle in front of them — like a kid…or bicyclist — that the truck might not be able to see for some reason. Our sensors basically form a safety cocoon around the truck. They have a clear 360-degree coverage, so they don’t miss any blind spots. That allows us to increase the safety, reduce the accidents and also increase the operational efficiency for our clients.”

Short, predictable routes an AV boon

As a company, NuPort focuses on the middle-mile: shorter routes used by tractor trailers to deliver between distribution centres, warehouses and terminals. Sahdev says they decided to focus on the middle-mile because it’s a “niche” area.

NuPort Robotic co-founders Raghavender Sahdev (L) and Bao Xin Chen
NuPort Robotic co-founders Raghavender Sahdev (L) and Bao Xin Chen

“These are very short, repetitive routes so you know how the route looks and there’s a high volume of cargo movement,” he says, adding that since the movement of the vehicle is fixed, they will easily be able to improve safety and efficiency with more environmentally friendly technology.

These greater efficiencies can lower fuel and maintenance costs, Sahdev says, while potentially reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent. He says there is no set goal for this partnership, however, as the project and technology is new. However, he says NuPort will monitor results to see how well the project works, with the hope of adding and expanding to it in the coming years.

“Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem”

Cari Covent, Vice President, Intelligent Automation, Canadian Tire

Learning in a real-world classroom

Canadian Tire is already progressing towards zero emission vehicles and greener transportation with a charging network hosted at many of it retail locations. In 2020, Canadian Tire added 140 chargers to its network.

“Over the last three years, Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, and NuPort Robotics exemplifies what we look for in a start-up with a focus on innovation, automation and artificial intelligence,” added Cari Covent, vice president of intelligent automation, Canadian Tire.

“[Canadian Tire] share our vision of improving the safety and sustainability of the environment, making more eco-friendly technology available, improving their efficiency and, most importantly, having a higher amount of safety by using our technology,” Sahdev says.

A concept rendering of NuPort's autonomous vehicle technology
A concept rendering of NuPort’s autonomous vehicle technology

“For us to be the first ones to do this project has significant advantages and there’s a learning curve,” he notes, adding that NuPort needs to determine things like how the technology will perform in certain conditions.

“That gives us a lot of advantages on a technical and a business side. On the technical side, we can … know how to tailor our algorithms to work in all weather conditions. On the business side, we’ll understand working with a major retailer and how their operations are working, so we get a good sense of what that means and how the technology can be deployed over the next few years.”

The NuPort-Canadian Tire project carries a $3-million price tag, with both companies and the Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) each contributing $1 million to fund the project.

Loblaw partners with Gatik to deploy Canada’s first autonomous delivery fleet