Driverless cars may be a ways off yet in Canada, but Metro Vancouver residents curious about the technology will soon get a chance to try it out.
A driverless shuttle will be taking passengers on free, short rides in Vancouver and Surrey next month, as a part of the two cities’ joint entry in the Smart City Challenge, a federal competition with a $50-million prize aimed at fostering innovation in municipalities.
The rides are in the ELA EZ10 Driverless Shuttle, a vehicle the municipalities say is already used in several cities around the world.
ELA stands for electric automation. The vehicle is battery-powered, fully accessible, can hold up to 12 passengers, and is capable of travelling at speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour. It uses sensors, cameras and computers to detect obstacles and navigate through its environment.
During the demo, it will max out at 12 kilometres per hour, have a trained operator on board, and the ELA will be physically separated from traffic to ensure safety.
The Vancouver-Surrey collaboration says the autonomous shuttles are a key component of its Smart Cities Challenge attempt to create two collision-free multi-modal transportation corridors.
The initiative is meant to act as a proof of concept for a pair of future driverless vehicle corridors that could be built with the the $50 million prize money, should the Vancouver-Surrey entry win the competition.
The Surrey corridor is envisioned as a 3.4-kilometre route between Surrey Memorial Hospital and a major transit hub.
The Vancouver corridor would be a two-kilometre route between Granville Island and Science World.
“This is the first time that autonomous vehicles are being considered for large-scale use in the Lower Mainland. Together, Surrey and Vancouver are setting the standard for other cities in Canada to follow our lead on smarter streets,” states the initiative’s website.
Anyone looking to hitch a ride on the smart shuttles will have to make an online booking.
The shuttles will be active in Surrey Feb. 1-4, 6, 9, 10, and 13-17, operating from the Surrey Civic Plaza at 13450 104 Ave. for five-minute rides.
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In Vancouver, the shuttles will be active from Feb. 23 to Mar. 3, offering 15-minute rides.
The shuttle will operate on a one-kilometre stretch of West 1st Avenue between the Olympic Village Train Station parking lot and the northwest corner of Manitoba and West 1st Avenue.
You can find out more about Vancouver and Surrey’s Smart City Challenge bid here.