Windsor seeks $10M to study driverless border crossings

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Windsor Star/Doug Schmidt


WEEDC is seeking a $10-million grant from Transport Canada to research how best to get driverless vehicles smoothly across the border.

Rapid advances are being made on both sides of the border in getting cars to become smarter, more autonomous, even driverless, but what about actually getting them across the border?

That’s the $10-million question Windsor hopes to answer.

An expression of interest submitted by the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation to work on smart and connected border solutions was approved earlier this month by Transport Canada.

A local partnership between WEEDC and a number of collaborators is now vying with a short-listed group of finalists for part of $400 million in new spending from Transport Canada’s National Trade Corridors Fund.

“How can we get the border ready for autonomous cars and trucks?” said Susan Anzolin, executive director of the Institute for Border Logistics and Security, a department of WEEDC. “How do we get vehicles to communicate … for example, with customs or the toll booth or with the duty-free shop?”

In what was touted as a milestone in advancing driverless technology, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains and Ontario’s Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca drove across the Windsor-Detroit border in driverless, or autonomous, vehicles on July 31.

Bains called the experience “surreal,” while Del Duca described it as “spooky.”

But Anzolin said that trip took about two weeks of advanced preparation, and to fully align the two sides of the border to accommodate such traffic on a regular basis will require “a lot of work on both sides.”

WEEDC’s $10-million proposal is for a five-year project involving “multiple collaborators in Canada and the U.S,” including, on the Canadian side, the University of Windsor, St. Clair College, the City of Windsor and high-tech companies, both big and small, in the private sector.

The project would consist of two parts:

1) providing a space (both virtual and physical) for entrepreneurs, technology start-up companies, Canadian corporations and educational/research institutions to “test, validate and showcase” connected and automated vehicles technologies for border crossings; 

2) collect data and help develop a better “Smart Borders Information System” to “greatly improve traffic flow” by researching new and better ways for vehicles, infrastructure owners and border agencies to exchange information.

Anzolin said Windsor is ideally located and that part of the project will be engaging those doing the same research on the American side.

“This is really a research project … supporting businesses and developing new technologies,” said Anzolin. At a minimum, she added, the project could create about 20 research internships and fellowships at the university and college levels.

“No one is currently doing this,” she said.

Transport Canada’s final submission deadline is Nov. 6. After receiving a letter of support from the city last week, WEEDC CEO Stephen MacKenzie will be explaining the project to Essex County council Wednesday night and seeking its formal support as well.

According to WEEDC, the project would help “the local, regional and national transportation network to (become) more efficient, effective and secure, and will position Canada to be a world leader in land and water crossing border technologies.”

Ottawa has pledged $2 billion in funding over the next 11 years for projects through Transport Canada’s National Trade Corridors Fund.

Anzolin said “several” other proposals from the county made the initial cut announced in September. “Unfortunately,” she added, no other city projects made it past the expression of interest stage.