Google is spending millions of dollars on self-driving auto technology, but engineers at the University of Waterloo are fashioning a uniquely-Canadian autonomous vehicle with a name to inspire a smile: enter, the Autonomoose.
A modified Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is rigged with cameras, computers, sensors and software, developed by researchers at the university’s Centre for Automotive Research.
On Wednesday, journalists were taken for a ride on a track set up to let the Autonomoose loose. (Although engineer Carlos Wang was sitting behind the wheel, he was deliberately not touching the controls.)
“No hands,” Wang said, as he showed off three of the car’s key capabilities: first, avoiding an obstacle on the road — in this case, a bale of hay.
Next, the ability to keep driving straight while avoiding an oncoming car in the next lane.
Finally, he demonstrated how the vehicle could safely make a left turn at an intersection, after waiting for an oncoming vehicle to pass by.
In each case, the Autonomoose drove alone, even in steady rain. Weather conditions, especially precipitation and snow, can affect an autonomous car’s performance.
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Researchers at the University of Waterloo are especially proud of the progress they’ve made developing the Autonomoose’s technology.
In the last year, they’ve driven their test vehicle more than 100 kilometres through city streets. Although that may not sound like a huge accomplishment compared to the millions of kilometres driven by Waymo, owned by Google, it’s been developing technology for almost a decade. On Monday, Waymo received permission from the state of California to test its vehicles on roadways for the first time without a driver in the car as a safety backup.
Still, researchers at the University of Waterloo say their research is significant.
“We’ve built a self-driving code base that’s completely our own. Every piece of the software that we need we’ve been able to put together in a cohesive package that runs in real time and keeps the car safe,” said Steven Waslander, associate professor at the University of Toronto, who previously worked full time at the University of Waterloo.
Researchers have released much of their code publicly, but not all of it, citing liability concerns.
Asked when he believes self-driving vehicles will be developed to the point where someone can buy one for personal use, Waslander says engineers still have many years of work ahead.
— With files from James Davidson