The city is trying to lay the groundwork so Edmonton can be North America’s leader in testing, and developing, driverless vehicles. City council’s urban planning committee was told the closest achievable market is trucks.
Dan Duckering of the Alberta Motor Transport Association told councillors a test track is proposed for the U of A’s south campus. A couple of trucks are being tested in amongst other vehicles in Nevada, Edmonton’s advantage is we are a winter city, and can throw all kinds of road conditions into the mix.
“As I understand right now the technology hasn’t been tested in our extreme weather and the ice is an issue, as well as road recognition, lane recognition, even from the aspect of a human driving down the road in some of our roadways. It’s hard to know exactly where the edge of the road is and stuff like that,” Dukering said. “To be able to test it and enhance the technology so that it can operate in our weather is critically important to move this technology forward.”
Duckering insists testing can be safe, likening the operators of these vehicles, to an airline pilot. He said planes can land and take off on their own, but someone is at the controls anyway. He said the same will happen with these trucks.
“The driver’s seat will rotate forty-five degrees, and they’ll sit and map the route or they’ll do other testing and the vehicle will go in and out of traffic and navigate around slower vehicles.”
He said Calgary has shown reluctance to embrace the technology, shutting down testing because of greenhouse gas emissions, while here at the Edmonton International Airport, 20 acres has been set aside for road testing.
Brad Ferguson, with the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation has been to Helsinki and Vancouver to talk to interested partners. He predicts this could be a $30 million a year economic boost if Edmonton can become a leader in the field.
“Twenty start-up companies over a course of five years and each one employing a certain number of people, and what kind of revenues they would have — so we have a formula of how do we create that. It’s a pretty conservative number but it would actually move the dial here quite a bit. That would be a significant industry for us.”
Coun. Andrew Knack sees the development of the industry as having impacts across the world and wants Edmonton to be the leader. He said we have the locations to make it work.
“Do we really need to fence that off if we’ve already got a location ready to go? It’s a roadway network, let’s use it and let’s start testing it. If we’ve got companies that want to do commercial vehicles and they want to invest in spots like around the international airport, let’s make sure we’re not putting the barrier so high that we can’t test this quickly and make sure we learn from it.”
The next step is to get the province on board by changing the regulations so on street testing can become a reality. Duckering told the committee he’s had conversations with the transportation ministry, and one hurdle is getting the government to get over the mindset that there could be job losses. He said the jobs would evolve, not disappear.
Council will get an update on progress in June.