Canada’s first autonomous bus rolls out


As early as this fall, students at the University of Waterloo will be able to ride the WATonoBus — the first driverless shuttle bus in Canada.

Developed by a group of 20 PhD students led by Amir Khajepour, a UW professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering, the seven-passenger bus will operate on a 2.7-kilometre route with five stops along Ring Road. Currently, the maximum speed is 20 km/h.

Professor Khajepour told Kitchener Today that the plan is to start off running the bus on South Campus, and then eventually try adding North Campus as well.

It is equipped with a high accuracy GPS, six cameras and three light detecting and ranging sensors that can detect if there are pedestrians nearby.

A test run was conducted on June 24 with a backup driver sitting in the driver’s seat. The bus was able to successfully complete its route around Ring Road in about 10 minutes without any interference from the backup driver.

The project received equipment and technical support from sponsors Applanix, RoboSense and Rogers, as well as $1 million in funding from the provincial and federal government.

UW is currently signed to a three-year collaborative partnership with Rogers. Khajepour explained that the bus runs autonomously on a Rogers 5G network, providing an operator the ability to remotely take control of the bus in case of an unexpected event.

Once regular service begins, a remote operator located at the Davis Centre will be able to take over if necessary.

The WATonoBus will most likely start as a three-hour free service during peak times. Students will be able to download an app that provides information about stop locations and the arrival time of the next bus.

The WATonoBus is part of Ontario’s Automated Vehicle Pilot Program, which is a 10-year pilot program launched in 2016 to test automated vehicles on the province’s roads.

The team is awaiting approval from the Ministry of Transportation before the self-driving bus will become regularly available for all students, which is expected to happen during the fall semester.