Let Loose the Autonomoose: Canada’s First Self-Driving Car Hits the Roads

Canada has joined the ranks of countries aiming to increase road safety and ease traffic congestion with the development of self-driving cars.

Recently a vehicle dubbed the Autonomoose autonomously drove a crew of Ontario Ministry of Transportation officials to the podium of a launch event to introduce the first car approved to hit the roads under the province’s automated vehicle pilot program.

Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca jokingly saluted the courage of the media for calmly holding their ground as the driverless Autonomoose pulled toward the front rows of the assembled crowd. But enhanced safety is a key benefit of the move to self-driving cars, and NVIDIA DRIVE PX 2 technology is helping make it a reality.

On a brisk morning at the Region of Waterloo test track, Del Duca spoke to the crowd about the importance of autonomous vehicles and how the University of Waterloo Centre of Automotive Research (WatCAR), the organization behind the Autonomoose, is a prime example of a “made in Ontario” success story.

Del Duca said Ontario’s approach will be consistent with U.S. jurisdictions to keep a level playing field for research, development and deployment of self-driving vehicles, and make the province a global leader in the field.

Later in the day, WatCAR’s team took the media on a dozen test drives along the Waterloo complex’s oval track, which is more commonly used for emergency vehicle training. Guests rode up front while a WatCAR engineer sat in the back with a joystick-like device at the ready to assume control of the car should something unexpected occur. As anticipated, all 12 test drives went off without a hitch.

The Autonomoose uses a full suite of radar, sonar, lidar, inertial and vision sensors. The WatCAR team is looking to integrate these using our DRIVE PX 2 AI computing platform, which currently executes all planning and control code. Operating at 24 trillion deep learning operations per second, DRIVE PX 2 will enable Autonomoose to navigate Ontario’s city streets and highways, even in inclement weather.

The WatCAR research team has Autonomoose operating at level 2 autonomy, where the driver must be prepared to take over from the system in the event it fails to respond to a situation properly. Over the duration of the research program, they will advance the automation through level 3 — where drivers can turn their attention away in certain environments, like freeways — and ultimately reach level 4, where the automated system can control the car under most all circumstances.

Ontario is the first province in Canada to create a pilot program to test automated vehicles on its roads. WatCAR was the first applicant and the first approved participant to test a vehicle on public roads. Public road testing of Autonomoose in both ideal and adverse weather conditions will begin early next year.

The province places no restriction on where these test vehicles can be driven. It’s a big advantage compared to most programs around the world, which restrict driving to certain areas of cities or highways.

Image credit: University of Waterloo Centre of Automotive Research

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