Driverless shuttle pilot project launches in Calgary

The 12-passenger, fully autonomous ELA shuttle. Reid Feist / Global News

A new self-driving shuttle bus connecting the Calgary Zoo and Telus Spark will begin taking passengers this weekend.

Dubbed “ELA” or “Electric Autonomous,” the month-long autonomous vehicle pilot project starts rolling Saturday. Federal and civic leaders were the first to test the shuttle on Wednesday.

Michael Thompson, general manager of transportation for the City of Calgary, noted the landmark arrival of ELA in the city.

“This ELA shuttle is the first fully-autonomous vehicle in the city of Calgary, and one of the first ones in Canada.

READ MORE: Calgary launches pilot of driverless shuttle

“Transportation has typically been driven in Calgary by ‘drivered’ cars. Our city has built out around that. And at the City of Calgary, we’re extremely excited and interested to see how autonomous vehicles will change the way that our city is built, shaped, and the way that people get to where they work, live and play.”

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A new self-driving shuttle bus connects the Calgary Zoo and Telus Spark. Global News

The driverless shuttles are capable of taking a dozen people between the two locations across Memorial Drive at a speed of 12 km/h on designated lanes closed to other vehicle traffic and pedestrians. The shuttle doesn’t have a steering wheel, instead using 3D sensors, high-accuracy GPS and cameras to guide it to its destination.

READ MORE: Driverless shuttle could operate in Calgary if pilot project approved by councillors

A public-private partnership, the ELA shuttle is sponsored by Pacific Western Transportation, Telus, Atco, with a $50,000 grant from the federal government’s Program to Advance Connectivity and Automation in the Transportation System.

“Canada is in an excellent position to benefit from [autonomous vehicle] technologies,” said MP Kent Hehr, “which will help us make our roads safer, improve Canadians’ mobilities, and reduce the environmental impact of transportation. However, these technologies will have long-term effects on how we travel and how we get our products to market. Our communities need to be prepared for these changes.”
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LISTEN: Dan Finley of Pacific Western Group joins The Morning News to discuss ELA’s arrival in Calgary

The University of Calgary’s science faculty and Schulich School of Engineering will also be conducting research throughout the month-long trial.

University of Calgary associate professor Robert Ferguson will be doing research on pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle behaviour using distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) during the ELA project.

A new self-driving shuttle bus connects the Calgary Zoo and Telus Spark. Global News

“About 15 per cent of traffic fatalities are pedestrians,” Ferguson told Global News. “So, if we can determine characteristics of cyclists, cars and pedestrians, could we envision a warning system in real-time? DAS data is so accurate and covers such an enormous distance, we feel that we might be able to do that.”

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There will be no cost to passengers to take the shuttle, but rides do need to be booked online.

After the Calgary pilot project ends on Sept. 30, ELA will be moved to Edmonton for more testing in Alberta’s climate.

— With files from Reid Feist

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