An autonomous vehicle prototype by Google. (Photo by Flickr user smoothgroover22).

UCPR welcomes testing of driverless cars

Thanks to driverless cars, parallel parking could soon go the way of cursive writing: a skill shared mainly by those old enough to remember being taught it.

Of course, if that’s to happen, it’s still years away.

Nonetheless, communities are already beginning to adapt to the new tech and to make themselves attractive to the industry.

At its latest council meeting, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell signed on to be part of of the The Municipal Alliance for Connected and Autonomous Vehicle in Ontario (MACAVO), an initiative led by the Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA). The project hopes to create a testing corridor from Windsor to Ottawa “to help attract (and retain) autonomous vehicle-related industry and talent.” To do so, OGRA has asked interested communities to offer possible testing routes.

Realistically, Highway 17 is the main option to complete the corridor.

“We should encourage this to get these companies out of the big cities,” said Marc Clermont, the UCPR’s director of public works.

Russell Mayor Pierre Leroux also saw the initiative as an opportunity.

“We know this is the future,” he said, “we should get in as early as possible.”

Current technology

“There’s a misconception that autonomous vehicles need an Internet connection to get from point A to point B, that’s not the case,” said Stéphane Parisien, the CAO of the UCPR.

And he’s right.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, driverless cars are often rated on a scale from zero to five. At level zero, all major systems are controlled by a human and at five, “the car is completely capable of self-driving in all situations.” Many cars today are either at the first or second level with technology like cruise control and self-parking.

As Parisien mentioned, these cars do not need to be connected. Rather, they continuously update their internal map thanks to myriad tools including lidar and cameras. Traffic signs, road lines, all of that information is then processed by onboard computers that respond by controlling braking, acceleration, steering, etc.

There’s still a slew of ethical and practical hurdles before autonomous cars will be ready for everyone. But there’s little doubt it’ll be one of the biggest markets in the world.

As said in a press release from the OGRA, “This technology is improving so rapidly that there will certainly be other benefits to all our communities and municipalities in Ontario, and will allow our roadways to be completely transformed for better use by pedestrians, cyclists, public transit, vulnerable users and vehicles.”