Workers in Kanata North had the chance to take an autonomous pod for a spin around the Marshes Golf Club this week, a pilot run that could be a first step in alleviating some of the research park’s traffic woes.
Some 350 workers from 40 companies in the Kanata North tech park will travel through the golf course from Monday to Wednesday this week. There are no drivers piloting carts past the Marshes’ fairways, however: two autonomous pods, developed by the U.K.’s Aurrigo, will shuttle passengers across the course.
The event, hosted by the Kanata North Business Association, Invest Ottawa and other partners, is the first pilot run for Aurrigo in North America and the first public test of infrastructure developed through Ottawa’s L5 test facilities. The event isn’t just for fun, either: participants will deliver their feedback on the pilot to inform future public testing, and infrastructure such as the Ottawa-made SmartCone are interacting with the pods along the route.
Members of Ottawa’s tech community, including Wesley Clover chairman Terry Matthews, attended the event’s launch on Monday, alongside a number of local dignitaries such as Mayor Jim Watson, who quipped to Kanata North Coun. Jenna Sudds that he had his doubts about his safety riding in one of the futuristic vehicles.
“I hope it works. If it doesn’t, Jenna, you can be mayor,” he said, earning a laugh from the crowd.
Companies such as BlackBerry QNX and automotive giant Ford are among those in the Kanata tech park developing self-driving technologies that could one day enable wider deployment of pods and other autonomous transportation options in cities across Canada.
Veronica Farmer, the KNBA’s director of operations, told Techopia that the public demonstration is useful for laying the groundwork for wide-scale adoption of autonomous technologies in the near future.
“Technology demonstrations have this wonderful effect of helping people envision this in the future, to see what the art of the possible is,” she said.
The pilot project could also help address a common pain point in the tech park: traffic. Growing companies such as Kinaxis are avoiding the park, with the company’s employees citing traffic woes in the area as motivation to instead shift the firm’s headquarters to Kanata West.
Autonomous pods like Aurrigo’s are being touted as a possible solution for the so-called first and last mile of transportation. Farmer said while this might not be the short-term solution for congestion on Kanata roads, it’s invaluable to show how technology being developed in the park itself could help to solve problems close to home.
“Obviously, four-seater pods are not going to solve our commuting challenges,” she said.
“But what you can see is, this kind of technology, when married with infrastructure improvements, is a way for us to demonstrate we are world-class in Kanata North.”
The Ride the Pod trial sets the stage for the upcoming Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Canada conference, running Sept. 9 and 10 at the Brookstreet Hotel. The event will include nearly a dozen panels on AV tech, with keynote talks from Rahul Singh, the head of autonomous vehicle software development at Ford, and Anita Sengupta, the chief product officer of Airspace Experience Technologies.