Autonomous mobility takes a leap forward in Ontario with a trio of developments
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Autonomous Vehicles
Oct 28, 2020
Jasmin Legatos

AV shuttle pilots in Toronto and Whitby and new investment in Ottawa’s AV research facility will help advance the province’s position in driverless technology and services

Local Motors autonomous shuttle (Olli) Source: Local Motors

AV shuttle pilots in Toronto and Whitby and new investment in Ottawa’s AV research facility will help advance the province’s position in driverless technology and services

Three recent announcements have aligned to send a signal that autonomous vehicle pilots, testing and development are proceeding in Ontario despite setbacks due to COVID-19.

In Toronto, the city has unveiled details of both the vehicle and the partners that will be driving the launch of its first autonomous shuttle project next spring. The trial, approved last year as part of the city’s AV readiness plan — the first of its kind in North America — will operate using an eight-person Olli 2.0 electric, self-driving vehicle from Local Motors by LM Industries of San Francisco. The vehicle will connect residents in Scarborough’s West Rouge neighbourhood to the provincial GO transit network.

The trial, conducted in partnership with the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx, and operated by Pacific Western Transportation, will provide transit planners with valuable insight as they seek to manage the effects of COVID-19 and “build a better, more sustainable and equitable transportation network,” says Toronto mayor John Tory.

Pushed back by the pandemic

A few kilometres to the east, the town of Whitby in Durham Region plans to start its own AV shuttle pilot in early 2021. Announced last year, the $2.2-million driverless shuttle program from SmartCone Technologies was originally scheduled to begin this summer. “Like many projects, our timelines were pushed back a bit due to the pandemic,” says a municipal spokesperson. 

These test cases are part of a bigger movement currently happening in the province around autonomous mobility — all with formal or informal links to the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN), a research and development partnership fund administered by the Ontario Centre of Excellence (OCE). 

“We can be a global supplier in the mobility space”

Raed Kadri, Head of AVIN

AVIN features six regional technology development sites, including one in Ottawa, which is the source of the third recent announcement. In that news, the city’s L5 Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Test Facility announced that it had received a $17-million boost to expand its operations and that it was being rename as Area X.O.

The new funding comes courtesy of the federal government and industry partners Accenture, Microsoft and Nokia. It will enable the innovation centre to accelerate the safe development, testing and application of next-gen AV technologies, says Michel Tremblay, president and CEO of Invest Ottawa, the city’s lead economic development agency for tech-focussed industries.

A step forward

It’s a “step forward to the creation of a made-in-Canada autonomous vehicle, and also a made-in-Canada zero-emission vehicle,” adds Mélanie Joly, Canada’s minister of economic development and official languages. 

Asked by Electric Autonomy Canada about the significance of these concurrent developments, Raed Kadri, head of AVIN, says it reinforces the fact that, with its history as a car-manufacturing powerhouse, Ontario has the knowledge and the support to lead AV commercialization.

“We have all the right ingredients: a supportive government, great post-secondary institutions, top-tier talent, homemade tech and a vibrant automotive sector; we can be a global supplier in the mobility space.”

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