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Automated cars are soon coming to Ontario roads, according to an announcement by the Ministry of Transportation made Oct. 13 at UW. Starting Jan. 1, 2016, Ontario will allow the on-road testing of automated vehicles and related technology.</p>

According to the government of Ontario, an automated vehicle is a driverless or self-driving vehicle that is capable of detecting the surrounding environment using artificial intelligence, sensors, and global positioning system co-ordinates. The government believes that these vehicles can help reduce traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emission, and driver distraction. 

“In the world of transportation, Ontario has the opportunity to show leadership on automated technology. Today, Ontario is making its claim in the global marketplace by taking the next steps in automated vehicle innovation,” said Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca in a press release. “The automated vehicle pilot will ensure that the province’s roads remain safe without creating burdens that stifle investment and innovation in Ontario’s dynamic business environment.”

Ontario is working to become a leader in automated vehicles, having pledged almost $3 million in funding for the Ontario Centres of Excellence Connected Vehicle/Automated Vehicle Program. Currently there are nearly 100 companies and institutions involved in the connected vehicle and automated vehicle industry in the province. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers forecast that by 2040, autonomous vehicles will account for 75 per cent of all vehicles on the road.

Brad Duguid, minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure, said in a press statement, “Ontario is a global leader in developing and manufacturing the next generation of vehicles. This new pilot program will build on our success, and help Ontario lead the development of automated and connected car technologies.”

According to Ross McKenzie, managing director of WatCAR, “The unique part of Tuesday’s announcement was that any road is fair game, any road is accessible and eligible.… I know there are some states in the U.S. where they are allowed on local streets but not allowed on freeways; they are allowed on city streets but not country roads and that kind of thing. The differentiator for me that puts Ontario at the forefront in North America is their saying for this pilot program of autonomous vehicles, any road is eligible for testing.”

Del Duca did stipulate that cars must have an operator ready to take over control at all times. He also asked the insurance industry to work with the government to develop insurance coverage and regulations for future commercial introduction of autonomous vehicles. 

Liability and insurance is just one of the challenges in regulating autonomous vehicles.

“The challenge to regulation is how much autonomy will you allow, are you going to allow fully autonomous, under what types of weather conditions — because you’ve got an issue with sensors onboard vehicles,” said McKenzie. “Google is on record as saying their vehicles don’t work in the cold weather, their vehicles don’t run well in the rain, and in driving rain it is out of the question.… Are sensors able to work off the front bumper in slushy winter road conditions where they are going to get sprayed with melting ice and road salt and the like? Those are some of the issues I believe the MTO will be factoring in as they review applications.”

Over the summer, a UW-based startup — Varden Labs — was the first to drive an autonomous vehicle on a Canadian road, testing their vehicle on Ring Road. In addition to Varden Labs, there are student teams working in the Sedra Student Design Centre on applicable technology as well as the terrestrial robotics team and the autonomous vehicle lab.  

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