July 8, 2019 11:15 pm
Updated: July 9, 2019 8:54 pm

After autonomous lawn mowing, Edmonton looking to remove snow on trails

WATCH ABOVE: (From July 9, 2019) First it was robotic lawn mowers and now the City of Edmonton is looking at autonomous snow removal. Sarah Kraus reports.

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Edmonton is looking at expanding its inventory of self-driving groundskeeping units, moving from lawn mowing to snow removal on pathways.

This week, the city posted a tender for a “commercial-class, self-driving mower and snow-clearing robot.”

“We’re excited to see the technology in the field and to continue to enhance our existing service levels,” Travis Kennedy, the general supervisor for the city’s open space operations, told Global News in an interview.

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This year, the city launched a pilot using two rechargeable, autonomous mowers at Coronation Park to maintain the sports fields. They added to it this summer with two additional mowers: one in Glenora and one at the Telus World of Science.

These mowers are ideal for high-visibility, smaller segments of turf where they want good curb appeal.

But now they’re looking to go bigger, Kennedy said, with a gas-powered unit that can also clear snow in the winter. The tender identifies Colorado-based Left Hand Robotics’ RT-1000 Snowbot Pro as an example of a machine meeting the city’s requirements.

READ MORE: Edmonton pilot project to test electric autonomous vehicles this fall

Watch below: Some Global News videos about autonomous vehicles.

“The gas-powered autonomous unit that we’re exploring has a bit of a broader capability, so it can do up to 25 acres in a 24-hour period,” Kennedy said. “This expands the scope of the autonomous pilot.

“It has a really good safety system on board, stops when pedestrians are in proximity, and as well, it has a gas-powered engine, so you know when it’s approaching you — it stops ahead of time.”

Councillor Andrew Knack said the move will help meet the taxpayers’ desire of doing more with less.

“I think we need to constantly see if there are better ways to provide service using our existing budgets,” he said.

“We heard from members of the accessibility advisory committee, who expressed concerns around the lack of snow clearing on certain trails and sidewalks.”

Knack said he anticipates staff would still need to be part of the equation. Kennedy said that is indeed the case.

“[The autonomous units] do interact with smartphones, so you can always check their location,” Kennedy said. “They send any error codes, so you can see in real time where they’re at.

READ MORE: Edmonton airport perimeters will soon be patrolled by autonomous vehicle

“But with the larger pilot, we’d definitely be looking at that in a more isolated setting — at least for the first while — until we’re really comfortable with the technology and it’s delivering what we need it to in a safe manner.

“You put them in one location and then they consistently mow,” Kennedy added. “That allows you to keep a perfectly consistent turf height. But this unit that we’re exploring actually allows you to take on multiple sites to set some routing up in different locations.

“Now, that said, these things can’t travel on roads — they’re autonomous, so they need to be trailered around and chaperoned by staff.”

This week’s tendering by city staff could pay off before the end of the year.

“We would probably be doing focused testing this winter if we can move quickly enough to procure,” Kennedy said.

“But we’re still exploring the specifications and once we land the appropriate tech, we’ll move forward with procurement.”

The city appears to be heading in the right direction. Earlier this spring, the Open Space Autonomous and Electronic Equipment Pilot project received a Smart 50 Award.

These international awards recognize global smart cities’ projects and innovative work by municipalities.

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