Situated at the confluence of the Bow River and the Elbow River in the south of the province, Calgary is one of Canada’s gems – and a city that is apparently another one to embrace the autonomous or ‘fully driverless’ revolution.
According to latest news, the city of Calgary has launched a driverless shuttle pilot project that will transport people between the Calgary Zoo (its LRT station) and the Telus Spark. The program will start on September 8th and will last until September 30th.
The Shuttle’s Main Goal is to Operate on Mixed-Traffic Roads
The shuttle pilot is named ELA, or Electronic Autonomous, and is planned to carry 12 people at a time with a maximum speed of 12 kilometers per hour. According to Dan Finley, who is the vice-president of business development for the Pacific Western Transportation, “the long-term strategy for this technology is to be able to operate on mixed-traffic roads – but this is one step in that direction.”
Finley also described the shuttle as a 100% electric vehicle that has the looks of a “souped up, large golf cart.” He noted that despite its looks, the shuttle has a lot of innovative technologies inside such as advanced navigation as well as knowing where it is, what is around and when it needs to stop.
A Maximum of 45 km/h That Can be Tailored to the Unique Circumstances
As we said above, the ELA shuttle is limited to a maximum of 12 km/h for this project (considering the roads) – however, it can actually travel up to a speed of 45 km/h. Using technology that includes LiDAR sensors, GPS as well as video cameras, the vehicle is able to 3D map the surroundings and understand where to navigate.
As Finley described the technology inside the ELA:
“It manages by exception, so it understands what’s normally there and when there’s something that’s not normally there, it looks for that and it identifies whether the trajectory of that item, that vehicle, car, bicycle is going to interact with it or if it’s going to avoid it,”
“If a vehicle approaches ELA, it basically looks very much like a two-lane road in a community here in Calgary. It would have the same type of space requirements as a vehicle on a road,” he continued.
The vehicle is extremely safe and Finley confirmed this. “Just like a transit unit, it is very similar to something that you can get in, have a seat and enjoy a ride.”
A Potential Roadmap for Urban Transportation in Calgary’s Busiest Streets
Aside from the $50,000 grant from the federal government, this project is also supported by Telus and ATCO. The MP of Calgary, Kent Hehr, also contributed to this project with $290,000 as a donation to the City of Calgary to establish a connected vehicle test bed along the 16th Avenue N. which would span 12 intersections and be the city’s first plan to test autonomous vehicles in urban areas.
As Hehr said:
“Essentially, 16th Avenue, being one of the busiest transportation hubs in our city, is an excellent test bed to allow autonomous vehicles to start stopping and starting, creating and moving along those systems to allow us to gauge its effectiveness.”
Not The First Time the ELA Shuttle is Deployed
Meanwhile, the ELA shuttle is not an entirely new concept. In fact, it has been deployed in more than 170 places and 20 countries around the world – with zero accidents – according to Finley.
“The vehicle is extremely safe,” he said. “It’s very similar to a transit unit, it’s very similar to something you can get in, have a seat and enjoy a ride.”
Most of the officials within the administration in the City of Calgary office know that autonomous vehicles are coming. Luckily, their innovative mindset could only foster this innovation and provide a solid testing ground for it in different setups and areas.
However, Finley knows that further testing and development of the vehicle is always needed – all in order to satisfy the needs of the customers.
“Obviously, we want to be testing the slickness of roads, we want to understand what it’s going to do as people are getting on and off the vehicle with snow on their feet,” he concluded.
ELA is available for the residents of Calgary and tourists from September 8th to September 30th this year, free of charge. The rides can be booked on this link.
Following the pilot in Calgary, the system is planned to be redirected to Edmonton for further testing in the Alberta climate.