'We need to adopt this technology,' say officials as autonomous vehicles tested over Windsor-Detroit border

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Windsor Star/Dalson Chen




Government officials touted the advancement of driverless technology on Monday morning with a demonstration of two autonomous vehicles that crossed the Windsor-Detroit border.

“We want to embrace technology,” said Navdeep Bains, federal minister of innovation, science and economic development.

“We want to be the global leader when it comes to technology adoption. We want to be testbed when it comes to autonomous vehicles. We think this creates, actually, more opportunities and more jobs.”

Bains was accompanied by Ontario transportation minister Steven Del Duca and representatives of Magna International and Continental Automated Driving — the companies behind the two cars that made the trip.

Magna’s Level 3 autonomous Cadillac GTS and Continental’s Level 4 autonomous Chrysler 300 started in Detroit that morning, crossed the border with the two ministers onboard, and delivered them to a press conference on Windsor’s riverfront.

Del Duca said it’s the second time he’s been in an autonomous vehicle, but he still found the experience “exciting.”

“I was going to use the word ‘spooky,'” Del Duca admitted.

Bains preferred the term “surreal.”

“When (the vehicle) was in autonomous mode, you could clearly see the sensors working. It was detecting all the objects around it,” Bains said.

Del Duca pointed out that Ontario is the first province in Canada to permit the testing of automated vehicles on its roads and highways. “Safety is our top priority at the ministry,” Del Duca said.

Currently, under the regulations of a 10-year pilot program, an appropriately licensed driver must be inside a vehicle and behind the steering wheel at all times during the testing of an autonomous system. “All of the regular rules apply,” Del Duca emphasized.

Following the press conference in Windsor, the two cars continued travelling to Sarnia, where they used the Bluewater Bridge to cross back into Michigan and end their 480-kilometre trip in Traverse City.

A “memorandum of understanding” between the Province of Ontario and the State of Michigan was signed in Traverse City, pledging continued collaboration in the testing, developing, and marketing of automated vehicle technology.

Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation described the journey of the two vehicles as “North America’s first national, cross-border automated vehicle test drive,” but Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens noted last week that the Windsor-Detroit tunnel has been used for cross-border tests of autonomous cars previously this year.

Nonetheless, Bains hailed Monday’s event as a milestone celebration of Canadian technology and collaborative effort. “This is really a reflection that we’re building the vehicles of today, but we’re also building the vehicles of tomorrow.”

Asked why the Windsor-Detroit border was chosen for part of the test, Bains described it as “a critical touchpoint for both Canada and the U.S.”

“The Great Lakes region is an economic powerhouse. This is an automotive cluster that is second to none in North America. To continue to build on that success, we need to adopt this technology,” he urged.

At Level 3 autonomous, Magna International’s modified Cadillac allows drivers to “take your eyes off the road, take your hands off the wheel, and take your feet off the pedals,” according to Tom Toma, global manager of Magna’s automated driving product line.

“What our system is doing is monitoring the driver,” Toma explained. “Level 3 is technology you would buy to make your commute to work or your (travel) on vacation more enjoyable and more relaxing. The focus is to ease the pressure of driving long distances.”

Meanwhile, Continental Automated Driving’s cruising chauffeur — the modified Chrysler 300 — has enough onboard sensors to be considered Level 4 autonomous.

“The system can take over the full driving task,” said Steffen Hartmann, technical project leader for Continental.

In the event of an emergency, a Level 4 autonomous car is capable of performing a “safe stop” — bringing the car to a safe position, such as the side of a road, without driver intervention.

The final stage of development — Level 5 — involves completely self-driving vehicles, equal to a human at the wheel in every driving scenario.

Hartmann said Continental’s ambition is to have Level 4 vehicles on the market by 2020.

As for how much such a vehicle would cost the consumer, Hartmann said it’s too soon to estimate. “We have a lot of prototype hardware in there,” he explained.

“But we imagine the additional cost not to be too high. There was a study in Germany that put it around 10 per cent additional vehicle cost.”