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Edmonton pilot project to test electric autonomous vehicles this fall

A driver-less shuttle will soon arrive in Edmonton
WATCH ABOVE: A 12-person shuttle without a driver will start testing in Edmonton this fall. Kendra Slugoski has the details.

We’re one step closer to seeing autonomous vehicles on Edmonton and Calgary’s streets, as both Alberta cities are taking part in a pilot project in partnership with Pacific Western Transportation to test the technology.

The pilot product dubbed “ELA” – a 12-person shuttle – will begin testing in Calgary in September. It’ll be taking passengers from the Calgary Zoo LRT station to the TELUS Spark Science Centre.

” The EasyMile EZ10 driverless shuttle will look like the one shown in this handout.
” The EasyMile EZ10 driverless shuttle will look like the one shown in this handout. Kendra Slugoski, Global News

A similar test is planned for October in Edmonton on a route still to be determined. The city said that will be announced later this year once all safety requirements and regulations are approved by Alberta Transportation. The city said the route will be on a segregated road, separated from other vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

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The two cities will share their test results, which Edmonton said will enable additional data evaluation of how the pilot vehicle operates in two different Alberta climates.

The pilot will give people the opportunity to ride in the autonomous vehicle and provide feedback to the city. The vehicle will operate at low speeds of approximately 12 km/h over a one-kilometre circuit. The test will run up to a month.

READ MORE: Edmonton takes steps to prepare for self-driving vehicles, despite death of U.S. woman killed by autonomous car

The pilot project announcement was made Wednesday morning as industry leaders and municipalities gathered in Edmonton for the two-day Automated Vehicles 2018: Planning for Urban and Rural Transitions conference.

“We are excited to share this pilot with the people of Edmonton, and we want to know what they think when they experience it,” said Stephanie McCabe with the city’s corporate strategic development branch.

“It will be one of the first opportunities in Western Canada for people here to try an automated vehicle on a safe, segregated route.”

Seeing the technology coming at us from over the horizon, Councillor Andrew Knack said he’ll be promoting in this year’s construction budget debate, the idea of building some six-lane roads.

“We should have four lanes for traffic, and two lanes that today might be used for bus-rapid-transit, but could also be used for autonomous vehicles,” he told reporters.

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“I think that’s going to be one of the biggest challenges to overcome: How do autonomous vehicles work on the same roadways with human drivers? And so if you’re building that dedicated road right-of-way, you potentially expedite the ability for these vehicles to be operating.”

The EZ10 vehicle to be tested is manufactured by EasyMile, which the city said has deployed driverless shuttles in 20 countries across Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, North America and Europe. Many of the applications are in mixed traffic where vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians are using the roadway, the city said.

The vehicle’s driverless technology comes with multiple safety features and collision avoidance systems that detect pedestrians, cyclists, other vehicles and obstacles, the city noted.

However there will be a person in the vehicle who is able to stop it at any point, if needed.

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READ MORE: Calgary councillors make the case for self-driving cars

The go-ahead for on-road testing won’t be a thing here just yet. A spokesman for Transportation Minister Brian Mason said via email the government isn’t at the point to give its approval.

However, Knack remains optimistic.

“I think there’s still a huge opportunity for a northern city that receives a lot of snow to have testing take place on a regular basis.”

Knack also said that he’s heard from the unions that they’re trying to get in front of the technology advancement, and the associated job losses.

“I’ve heard that they understand it’s coming. I don’t know if we’re as prepared as we need to be yet but I do think it’s absolutely on the radar and they recognize that it’s a reality and we can’t simply fight it from happening,” he said.

“So if we start the planning work now hopefully things won’t happen overnight where 1,000 people lose their jobs. Can we start transitioning people and thinking about that, so there’s no job loss overall.”