In just a few short months, some Ontario residents might look to the car next to them on the road and notice something a little strange: the driver isn't holding the wheel.
In a bid to compete with the US on developing self-driving cars—technologies that companies such as Google and Tesla are already working on—self-driving cars can be tested on public roads in Ontario beginning on January 1st, 2016, Ontario Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca announced at the University of Waterloo on Tuesday morning.
"Many major companies around the world have already developed automated prototypes and are testing driverless cars in Europe, Asia, and the United States," Del Duca said at the press conference. "In order to compete, Ontario needs to be consistent with the approach of US jurisdictions and we need to step up."
The province is now "open for business," added Brad Duguid, Ontario minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure.
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A handful of US states have already passed laws that allow autonomous cars to be tested on their public roads, but Ontario is the first Canadian province to do the same. Safeguards such as registration and reporting requirements, as well as penalties for autonomous car operators, are wrapped into the regulatory change, Del Duca said.
Testing on public roads will allow engineers to work through issues with the technology that might never have been anticipated in a lab. One of robotics' greatest challenges is still getting machines to perform reasonably well under unpredictable real-world conditions—say, a snowy Canadian road—not just in a controlled environment.
Canada is home to a handful of autonomous vehicle companies, such as ClearPath Robotics, which recently partnered with General Electric to build a fleet of self-driving factory robots. However, both Silicon Valley and large foreign companies like Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo are leading the global industry charge on self-driving cars. It's these companies that Ontario hopes to woo with amenable regulations for testing.
Ontario regulators will meet with industry leaders from across north America on October 29th for a roundtable discussion to discuss how Ontario can "support the industry so that it is successful," Del Duca said.