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Autonomous Vehicles

The future of transportation

Komatsu truck and shovel in the autonomous-haulage system field trial, pictured here moving overburden. Photo courtesy of Suncor Energy.

The way people move and travel continues to evolve and become more sophisticated – from the onset of rail technology first developed approximately 200 years ago to the aviation industry. Personal transportation has also evolved from the simple horse and buggy to today’s automobile. Whatever the form of transportation, all of these changes significantly impact the way our city has been designed and the way people live and work.

Autonomous vehicles by definition mean driverless – vehicles that can perform and transport without a driver. The autonomous systems market worldwide is a massive industry. From personal transport vehicles to haulage systems, such as Suncor Energy’s commercial fleet of autonomous haul trucks in the oilsands, to delivery drones, this is the future of transportation.

But the future of transportation comes with certain risks and legalities and our federal government must be better prepared to pave the way.

Andrew Sedor, the city’s senior executive advisor for transportation, says, “There have been a variety of predictions as to the scale of the autonomous systems market. A 2017 study from Intel and the research firm Strategy Analytics claims that just autonomous vehicles will contribute to $7 trillion (USD) worth of economic activity and new efficiencies annually by 2050. While there are a variety of dollar figures floating around, most people can agree that the impact of automation will be huge economically and societally.”

Sedor explains that when it comes to drone technology, however, there will be limitations. “They would not be allowed to operate under Transport Canada regulations due to various restrictions. The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction of aeronautics.”

According to a news release by the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, Canada is ill-prepared for the future of transportation. Senator Dennis Dawson, chair of the committee, says, “We are on the cusp of a transportation revolution and Canada must be ready. Cities were ill-prepared when ride sharing came to Canada; we cannot afford to repeat this mistake. We are far behind at helping the industry prepare itself.”

The committee also claims that “fully-automatic cars will one day be capable of performing virtually all driving tasks, while connected vehicles – cars that can interact with their environment and relay information to the driver – offer new levels of safety and instant access to information.”

With all the new technology, the committee has also been analyzing the risks and rewards they offer. “After questioning experts and taking fact-finding missions to meet top researchers, senators have released a report making 16 recommendations to set Canada up for success. Broadly speaking, the recommendations urge various government departments to work with innovators to lay the groundwork for policy that will encourage the responsible development of this technology. The committee believes a coordinated national strategy will be necessary to ensure Canadians benefit from these technologies.

“A national strategy would also allow the government to prevent potential harms. Strong cybersecurity measures will be necessary to maintain public safety and confidence, and rigorous oversight is required to ensure personal information gleaned from connected and automated vehicles is securely held and not exploited.”

The City of Calgary is working with the University of Alberta, University of Calgary and other public and private stakeholders on conducting a low-speed autonomous vehicle pilot that would run between the Calgary Zoo and the TELUS Spark Science Centre.

“The group is aiming to have the project run for around one month in September 2018,” Sedor says. “The universities are looking to research various topics including the evaluation of the performance of the shuttle in terms of provision of last-mile option, travel time, charging duration, loading and unloading behaviour and observation of passengers’ behaviour in terms of comfort and adaptation. Because of the collaborative nature of the project, this as an opportunity to showcase Calgary’s academic and industry talent when it comes to new transportation technologies.”

Sedor explains that current provincial and municipal legislation do not contemplate the regulation of automated vehicles (AVs), however, there is nothing in provincial legislation or municipal bylaws that explicitly block the operation of AVs.

“Rather, the operation of an AV would likely be indirectly barred by various requirements in the legislation with respect to vehicle legislation, distracted-driving legislation and operator licensing,” he notes. “The Province of Alberta has stated that ‘while legislation is not yet in place, the Government of Alberta is working on the issue and anticipates that a regulatory framework for AV testing will be announced no later than June 2018.’”

As far as Calgary becoming an autonomous-vehicle testing city and building on Calgary’s geomatic strengths, Sedor says, “Many jurisdictions in North America and globally are looking to facilitate autonomous-vehicle testing in hopes of boosting economic activity and creating jobs. A range of approaches have been used to attract companies to test products from constructing testing facilities to simply changing legislation to allow testing with minimal requirements. In all cases, a level of enabling legislation has been put in place to enable testing.”

In addition, Calgary Economic Development conducted a location-quotient analysis to determine the level of clustering of the autonomous systems industry in Calgary and found there are currently over 2,300 companies employing over 17,000 Calgarians in this industry. Additionally, when it came to above-surface surveying and mapping jobs (a key component in the development of AV technologies), Calgary has a concentration three times higher than the national average, claims Sedor.

But what are the benefits, if any, to the automated/driverless industry? “Saving lives and less accidents is by far the biggest benefit we can expect from automation. Already the road to automated cars has led manufacturers to increase safety measures in cars that used to be available only in high-end vehicles or experimental cars: intelligent cruise control, cameras, radar and car-to-car communications has already arrived,” says Dawson.

Ken Brizel, CEO of ACAMP (Alberta Centre for Advanced MNT Products), agrees with Dawson and says the advancement in AV technology will reduce road fatalities and injuries. “According to the World Health Organization, every day, road-traffic accidents claim more than 3,400 lives worldwide, with a total of 1.25 million deaths annually and between 20 and 50 million suffer non-fatal injuries. Speed and bad driver decisions are a few of the key issues causing road fatalities and injuries. Intelligent autonomous systems aim to reduce road fatalities and injuries by forcing the vehicles and roadways to interact in such a way as to reduce the likelihood of accidents through rules and controls.”

The call to action for Alberta, says Brizel, is more investment in technology development of real products not just research for the sake of research alone. “We have world-class engineers, scientists and mathematicians living in Alberta already and graduating from our universities; these disciplines are required to create new technologies. Technology-product developers for volume manufacturing and entrepreneurs are critical for the future of a new technology-based economy in Alberta and they are hard to come by.”

Typically every year, according to Brizel, over 30,000 students from Alberta post-secondary schools graduate and a majority of them leave Alberta to work somewhere else in the world. “We need to help and nurture product developers and the entrepreneurs that will lead the teams.”

The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications warns, “Canada cannot afford to delay. Connected and automated-vehicle technology is here to stay. The federal government must ensure the country is prepared so that Canadians can take full advantage of the next generation of transportation.”