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Premier Wynne set to announce funding for self-driving car research in Stratford

Stratford City Hall.
Stratford City Hall. Google Maps

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to announce a big investment in research for self-driving, or autonomous, cars during a visit to Stratford Wednesday.

The province is expected to take the wraps off $80 million in funding for research centres and companies throughout southern Ontario.

London and Windsor are said to be in line to share $5 million, while Stratford will get between $5 million and $15 million.

READ MORE: London tech business booming with two new companies, expansion of another

In January Ontario launched a 10-year pilot program testing automated vehicles. The province cites minimized driver error among the reasons for the tests.

Driver error is responsible for more than 90 per cent of road crashes, the study states, which has prompted the development of new technologies designed to help mitigate such error. This has led to increasingly sophisticated design, which has brought us to semi and fully autonomous vehicles.

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Wednesday’s funding agreement has been in the works since the spring when Stratford was announced as Ontario’s demonstration hub for autonomous vehicles.

READ MORE: Pizza delivery without a driver: Domino’s tests out self-driving cars

Stratford is already working with a Tokyo-based company at a four-acre test facility.

“They’re actually testing cars there now with University of Waterloo, Blackberry, and other manufacturers. So we are in the game,” said Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson.

A national survey by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) finds that Canadians are not only split on embracing vehicle automation, they’re downright nervous.

READ MORE: Ford investing $1B in robotics startup to reach 2021 driverless car goal

“On one side you’ve got about 40 per cent of the public who believe that they can hop into a self-driving vehicle and have sufficient knowledge, everything’s good,” said Stephen Beatty, vice president of Toyota Canada. The TIRF study was funded by the automaker.

“You’ve got another 40 per cent on the other side who say, ‘that would be very stressful for me.’

“And then you’ve got 20 (per cent) in the middle who are going, ‘I think I need to learn more.’ And they’re the wise 20 per cent because vehicle automation is coming very rapidly and everyone needs to know more.”

Mathieson getting ready for autonomous vehicles takes time and leadership.

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“This is an evolution of thought leadership, not only at council but at our hydro utility, at our own data utility, it’s at our economic development corporation. When you put all those groups together and you put a lens on that you’re going to be innovative it starts to take hold and make a difference.

Wednesday’s announcement is set for 3 p.m. at Stratford City Hall.

With files from Tania Kahout