Blowing leaves, snow give automated shuttle trial in Ottawa first real world test

An automated shuttle bus is set to roll in Ottawa but in its first public real-world trial, it encountered a few hiccups.

Area X.O, operated by Invest Ottawa,  launched an on-road test of an automated shuttle in Ottawa.  It is the first of its kind to be approved under Ontario’s Automated Vehicle Testing Program.

“[T]he shuttles will operate up to 15 km/h on a 1.5-kilometre route through Tunney’s Pasture campus from Nov. 3 to 13, 2020, and perform a variety of tests in real-world conditions,” Area X.O said in a press release Monday morning. “It is the first project of its kind to be approved in the province under the Ontario Automated Vehicle Testing Program.”

The shuttles can seat up to six people at a time and can travel at speeds of up to 25 km/h. Typically, the shuttles travel along a pre-programmed route and use sensors and software to detect their surroundings and avoid obstances.

Those sensors proved to be very sensitive during Monday’s test. Light snow, blowing leaves, and even geese that can frequently be found around Tunney’s Pasture brought the shuttle to a halt. 

Halting for obstacles is what the shuttle is designed to do, says Invest Ottawa President and CEO Michael Tremblay, who adds that these kinds of things are why a real-world test is so important.

“It’s giving us the data that were hoping to collect over ten days that are very unique to our region,” he said. “It will allow EasyMile to actually perfect what they do and help us as a region to improve and develop what were doing.”

The programmed route for this test takes the shuttles along Tunney’s Pasture Driveway, Columbine Driveway, Goldenrod Driveway and Yarrow Driveway.

Automated shuttle Tunney's Pasture test loop

A safety operator is on board to take full control of the shuttle if required at any time. Operator will be in place throughout the research project and will also serve to answer questions any riders might have.

Mayor Jim Watson, Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna and Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney took part in the virtual announcement of the driverless shuttle. Area X.O. operated by Invest Ottawa, has partnered with EasyMile, the City of Ottawa, Transport Canada and other partners.

In October, the Federal Government announced a $7 million investment[1] in Area X.O. Invest Ottawa said the launch of Area X.O. is “evolving from the Ottawa L5 Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Testing Facility.”

“Area X.O. enables and accelerates the safe and secure development, testing and application of next-generation technologies across many sectors.”

At Area X.O., an old government farm near downtown Ottawa, there are roadways, traffic lights and a railway crossing, where self-driving vehicles can be tested and augmented.  It’s powered by its own super speed 5G wireless network.

With files from CTV National News parliamentary bureau reporter Anne Bergeron-Oliver and writer Alexandra Mae Jones.

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