Canada’s autonomous vehicle pilots
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Sep 17, 2019
Katie Ingram

Self-driving cars have the potential to make journeys on Canada’s roads safer and more affordable. Pilots are crucial to testing the technologies and public acceptance of them. The more pilots, the more we learn…

Canada has the perfect four-season climate to test autonomous vehicles for use anywhere in the world

Self-driving cars have the potential to make journeys on Canada’s roads safer and more affordable. Pilots are crucial to test technologies and public acceptance of them. The more pilots, the more we learn.

Canada’s recognized expertise in artificial intelligence and related technologies, coupled with its traditionally strong automotive sector, has sparked the launch of multiple autonomous vehicle (AV) test tracks and pilot programs for self-driving vehicles in the country.

These programs and settings enable governments, planners and private sector players to put vehicles, vision systems and mapping software through their paces in real-world conditions (including Canada’s four-season climate). Their goals are to develop strategies, policies and a better understanding of the technology’s limits, safety and potential, to prepare for more widespread autonomous vehicle use.

Solving challenges

“[AV testing] gives us a chance to solve some of the current transportation challenges…[such as] getting people to and from rapid transit stations,” says Ryan Lanyon, chair of the AV Working Group for the City of Toronto, an agency established in 2015 to work with other levels of government and the private sector to study the issues, engage with the public and coordinate research to support autonomous vehicle policy development.

Lanyon’s department’s first live project is due to start in 2020. But six projects in four provinces are already underway. These involve a range of vehicles and services, including small commuter shuttles, passenger cars and larger vehicles, both in monitored public environments and on closed tracks. In some cases, the tests also give cities and residents a chance to interact and discuss how these vehicles will help public transportation.

Our pilot tracker

To document this activity, and help point the way forward for other municipalities, Electric Autonomy Canada has curated the following list of active AV pilots and road-testing programs in Canada (The 2019 State of AI Report documents more than 70 AV pilots worldwide, though it’s worth noting that Canada has added several more since its data was collected). We’re also tracking future projects and will continue to update this page as new ones are announced and come on stream.

1. Toronto’s Rouge Hill Automated Shuttle Trial

Where: Scarborough, in Toronto’s east end

What: A 6 to 12-month project in which one shuttle carries passengers between the residential West Rouge neighbourhood and the Rouge Hill GO station during rush hours

Start date: Fall 2020

Who: City of Toronto, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), Metrolinx (Government of Ontario-affiliated regional transit authority)

Mandate: To demonstrate the opportunity for “safe, green accessible transit technology to support local travel needs” within areas currently underserved by public transit

Fast facts:

  • The trial is part of Metrolinx’s First and Last Mile initiative, which aims to reduce the amount of passengers who drive to access transit each day (a figure currently sitting at 60%)
  • The shuttle will be free to ride, and there will always be a human attendant onboard
  • The shuttle will likely be zero-emission electric vehicle
  • The city of Toronto will consult with the public on the planning of this project in the spring of 2020
Area of planned autonomous shuttle route in Scarborough

“We will be using AV technology to connect people to existing transit services in an area of the city that has no established transit routes connecting that area to a nearby existing subway or regional rail service”

John Tory, Mayor of Toronto

2. Hamilton’s Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Test Bed

Where: Five main streets in a two-kilometre section of east Hamilton with residential, commercial, and light industrial development

What: Following Hamilton’s designation as a regional testing site by Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) in 2018, the city will open a test zone for start-ups and local partners to test connected and autonomous systems and interactions

Start date: Spring of 2020

Who: City of Hamilton, Centre of Integrated Transportation and Mobility (CITM, a division of Hamilton’s Innovation Factory), Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network

Mandate: To allow the city to explore emerging autonomous technologies in order to consider future integrations into traffic systems

Fast facts:

  • Technology being tested includes Artificial Intelligence to analyze interactions between vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists
  • Testing hardware will be installed in the city’s street lighting and traffic poles
  • A private test at the McMaster Innovation Park will precede the public test in Hamilton
(Innovation Factory/Twitter)

“With this comes the additional opportunity to support provincially funded research and development pilots within the city, as well as leveraging the CITM’s Smart City assets for additional test cases.”

City of Hamilton’s Public Works Committee report on the planned project

3. Candiac Navya Shuttle Pilot

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

Where: Candiac, Que.

What: A 15-passenger autonomous electric shuttle service working alongside other public transit vehicles. The pilot will last one year. The service follows a two-kilometre route in an area of light industry in central Candiac

Start date: 2018 (through Oct. 2019)

Who: Keolis Canada (transportation company), Navya (shuttle manufacturer), City of Candiac

Mandate: To improve transportation service in an area underserved by conventional transit and inform future planning

Fast facts:

  • Billed as the first 100 per cent electric autonomous shuttle on public roads in Canada
  • Eight months of the study involves transit users testing out the service
  • During winter, a passenger-free study was done to see how vehicles would function in colder temperatures
  • The shuttle travels up to 25 kilometres per hour
Autonomous Vehicle Pilot
Candiac Navya Autonomous Vehicle Pilot

“For Keolis Canada, multi-modal service is the key to the future of transportation. Autonomous electric shuttles are a great example of this because they complement existing services”

Marie Hélène Cloutier, VP Passenger Experience, Marketing and Sales, Keolis Canada

4. AVIN Technology Demonstration Zone

Where: Stratford, Ont.

What: AVIN’s (Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network) technology demonstration zone for Ontario-based companies.

Who: AVIN, Ontario Centres for Excellence (research-to-commercialization organization), Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, Ontario-based companies with connected and autonomous vehicle technologies

Start date: 2017 (ongoing)

Mandate: To allow innovators to test and show vehicles to consumers in a safe, closed space and to highlight Ontario as a leader in the AV industry

Fast fact:

  • The zone includes both public roads as well as a private testing area. According to AVIN, it allows participating manufacturers to evaluate their products in a safe controlled environment and in accordance with applicable laws and regulations using platforms such as city buses, fleets and passenger vehicles.

“Stratford is really becoming known not just provincially but also nationally and internationally…with respect to autonomous and connected driving”

Joani Gerber, InvestStratford CEO

5. Uber Self-Driving Car Lab

Where: Toronto

What: Uber Advanced Technologies Group Toronto is Uber’s only non-U.S. self-driving lab. Its aim is to improve automated mapping technology. For its tests — conducted on both city streets and highways — there is one driver and another employee in the passenger seat. By having employees in the car, someone is there to assist as kinks are worked out

Who: Uber Technologies Inc.

Start date: 2017 (ongoing)

Mandate: To make roads safer by making autonomous driving effective, widespread and more affordable

Fast facts:

  • Uber announced an additional $150-million, five-year investment Uber ATG Toronto last fall
  • Uber also tests autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh and San Francisco

“The way that we see it, [self-driving cars are] going to start in small areas. Then we’re going to grow from small areas to everywhere. The hope is to make that transition really smooth”

Raquel Urtasun, Chief Scientist, Uber Advanced Technologies Group and Head of UATG Toronto speaking to Reuters

6. Ottawa L5

What: L5 is a16-kilometre test track with a 5.2 kilometre high-speed test loop at the former Ottawa Biotechnology Incubation Centre. Tests include cybersecurity, poor weather conditions, and interoperability. The first test shuttles arrived in March 2019 and track work started in May 2019

Where: Ottawa

Start date: 2019 (ongoing)

Who: Invest Ottawa, AVIN, University of Ottawa, Algonquin College, Carleton University and La Cité collégiale, Blackberry QNX, Nokia, Juniper Networks

Mandate: To allow connected and autonomous vehicle firms to test and improve upon their vehicles in a safe area

Fast facts:

  • Funding is provided through AVIN’s Innovation program
  • Billed as Canada’s first level 5 (full autonomy) testing facility

“Invest Ottawa has established a strategic plan that focuses on three long-range market opportunities: smart government, smart health and smart cities, including connected and autonomous vehicles”

Michael Tremblay, president and CEO of Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards

7. ELA Pilot Project

Where: Calgary, Edmonton and Beaumont, Alta.; Surrey and Vancouver, B.C.

What: A 12-person electric autonomous shuttle, named ELA, deployed on various fixed routes (public and private roadways) for short periods of time

Start date: 2018 for Edmonton and Calgary; 2019 for Beaumont, Vancouver and Surrey (only Beaumont is currently running)

Who: Pacific Western Transportation (municipal transit provider), participating cities, EasyMile (shuttle manufacturer)

Mandate: To allow the public to experience proven autonomous technology, to position the regional transportation industry as a technology leader, and to promote research

Fast facts:

  • The ELA shuttle runs about 12 kilometres per hour
  • In Edmonton, in addition to two street routes, the ELA also ran at the 2018 Grey Cup
  • There is one Pacific Western supervisor onboard
Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Beaumont, Alberta Beaumont-Map
Autonomous Vehicle Pilot, Beaumont, Alberta

“There are a lot of elderly or mobility-challenged folks who are very excited when they come and see the vehicle, so this is a chance for them to regain their mobility”

Dan Finley, vice-president of business development, Pacific Western Transportation

Recently Completed: Olympic Park Automated Shuttle Pilot

Where: Montreal

What: A two-year project where two 12-person vehicles (shuttles) travel between the Olympic Stadium and the Viau metro station, with other stops along the way

Start date: 2018 (through August 2019)

Who: City of Montreal, Olympic Park, Transdev (international public transport operator), EasyMile (shuttle manufacturer)

Mandate: To test viability of automated shuttle service for Montreal, improve transportation services around Olympic Park and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions

Fast facts:

  • The initial plan called for one shuttle. However, during its launch over 800 people used the service, so operators added a second
  • An employee is onboard to ensure passenger safety
  • The vehicles travel at 15 kilometres per hour
Olympic Park autonomous vehicle route

“We are years away from implementing that technology in our everyday activities. We’re taking baby steps, but we’re taking steps”

Cedric Essiminy, Olympic Park spokesperson, speaking at project launch

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