A Mercedes-Benz Sprinter built by the Erwin Hymer Group. The company will start testing a Sprinter with various levels of automation on Ontario's roads.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario -- December 2, 2016 -- The biggest news in the autonomous vehicle (AV) space this week came out of Ontario, with the announcement that three organizations will begin testing driverless technology in the province. We also look at another AV crash, this time in Singapore, Nissan's Takashi Sunda discusses some of the technological and social challenges involved with AVs and e doesn't seem likely to get into the AV game.

- Finally! Months after the Ontario legislature passed a bill allowing self-driving cars to be tested on the province's roads, the University of Waterloo, Erwin Hymer Group and BlackBerry QNX have announced new programs to test AVs in the province.

The University of Waterloo's WATCar Project at the university's Centre for Automotive Research will, “...monitor a Lincoln MKZ for performance and test it on-road at different levels of automation.” The Erwin Hymer Group, “... an international auto manufacturer active in the Kitchener-Waterloo tech and innovation corridor,” will test and monitor a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van at different levels of automation. BlackBerry QNX will test a 2017 Lincoln with automated features. Watch for more on these programs in the near future.

- The Toronto Star interviewed Steven Del Duca, Ontario's Transportation Minister regarding the announcement. Minister Del Duca told the Star, “... testing could be conducted anywhere in Ontario, although discussions are taking place with municipalities including Stratford, which had been a rumoured site along with a number of other industry partners ... I think we are going to have additional updates in the weeks and months ahead.”

- The CBC gave the announcement some play as well, noting Ontario will be a good place to test AVs. “The ability to operate the vehicle on any public roadway in the province, in all types of weather conditions provides a significant advantage,” said Joel Adams, Director of Engineering for Erwin Hymer Group North America, as quoted by the CBC.

- An accident involving an AV in Singapore has been blamed on an "extremely rare combination of software anomalies.". According to a story in Straits Times, a driverless car with two safety engineers on board collided with a truck in a business park. No one was injured in the accident.

“The start-up said the software glitches affected how the vehicle detected and responded to other vehicles when changing lanes,” according to the report. The trials were put on hold following the accident, but have now resumed. An academic from the National University of Singapore said, “... the accident showed that Singapore may need to be more cautious in its move towards the adoption of driverless technology.” The soure was quoted as saying, “We are moving very fast," and that, “... it might be better for trials to take place in a controlled environment rather than on public roads.” The company running the test is expected to, “...begin offering commercial services in selected parts of Singapore in 2018, when it will have a fleet of 75 driverless vehicles here....The start-up is also slated to begin testing its autonomous Renault Zoes in Boston in the United States, where it has another office, by the end of the year.”

- One company that is not planning a self-driving sports car is Porsche. A report on UK site Autocar says that Porsche is, “... cool on the prospect of self-driving sports cars ... Porsche CEO Oliver Blume says the manufacturer isn’t likely to launch a fully autonomous 911 any time soon, but could use the tech as a driver aid.”

Future versions of Porsche cars may feature some self-driving features, but Porsche has no plans for a fully autonomous version.  
Future versions of Porsche cars may feature some self-driving features, but Porsche has
no plans for a fully autonomous version.
 

According to the story, “As mainstream road car manufacturers work towards increasing levels of autonomy in their road cars, the challenge facing niche companies such as Porsche is how to address the new technology while maintaining its reputation for making 'driver’s cars'.”

According to the Porsche CEO, “When you buy a Porsche, you will drive it yourself, full stop." Blume does note, however, that future Porsche's may have some self-driving features, so you can read a newspaper while you're stuck in traffic.

- An article on Phys.org looks at some of the technological challenges involved with AVs. The article asks if, “... drivers come to trust their autonomous vehicles? How will vehicles communicate with drivers and alert them to the presence of other vehicles on the road? And, what actions will vehicles take after identifying objects, signs and other road infrastructure such as painted lanes?"

Takashi Sunda, Deputy General Manager of the Autonomous Drive Technology Development Department at Nissan says that “social acceptance” is key to the future of AVs. As a result the company is working, “... on a wide range of new technologies that focus on how to better communicate and establish trust between drivers and their cars ... Adding to the complexity, researchers must also factor in the many differences in gender, age, experience, terrain, culture — and even different countries' rules of the road.”

Takashi Sunda of Nissan predicts the biggest challenge when it comes to AVs will be social acceptance.  
Takashi Sunda of Nissan predicts the biggest challenge when it comes to AVs will be
social acceptance.
 

 

The article goes on to note that, “Once vehicles begin collecting more information ... the systems will need to be able to recognize and react to a range of situations ... What's more, the technology will also need to quickly communicate all information back to the driver in an easy-to-grasp manner.” According to Sunda, “The change has already begun. We are altering the relationship between drivers and their cars — and the experience of driving as a whole."

 

 

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