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A milestone for Waterloo's autonomous vehicle program

The Lincoln MKZ hybrid sedan has now logged 100 kilometres on public roads
UW's autonomous vehicle
University of Waterloo’s Autonomoose, Canada’s first autonomous vehicle

We still may be years away from putting one in our driveway, but researchers at the University of Waterloo are celebrating as their self-driving car has now logged 100 kilometres on public roads.

The milestone was reached last week in an industrial area of Waterloo.

The managing director of the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research says they also did so in varying road conditions.

Ross McKenzie says some of it was winter driving, adding that's one of the unique aspects of the testing being done here in Waterloo, as a majority of autonomous vehicle testing in North America is happening down south in a pretty dry climate.

He also says there have been some notable lessons learned in the first 100 kilometres of driving the modified Lincoln MKZ hybrid sedan, nicknamed Autonomoose.

"It's as hard as we thought, if not a little harder," McKenzie told The Mike Farwell Show on 570 NEWS.

"There's four categories of things you're looking for as an autonomous vehicle going down the road. You're looking for other passenger vehicles ... pedestrians, you're looking for motorcyclists, we group those into one, and then you're looking for larger vehicles, via it a truck, bus or tractor-trailer unit," he explained.

McKenzie says one of the next steps will be to put the emphasis on recognizing trucks and buses.

"The vehicle sees those, and it knows to avoid them, it just doesn't identify them because the silhouettes ... city bus versus a school bus, or a flatbed truck with a load versus without, there's so many combinations," he said.

There is always someone sitting in the driver's seat, able to take control of the vehicle on a moment's notice.

As for when we will have access to the technology, McKenzie says that's likely still 20 years away.

"You're going to be driving in a primarily urban environment. You want to just stay on city streets. But if you want an autonomous vehicle that's going to get you to Pearson Airport, for example ... you've got to go on ... 400 series highways, you've got to be able to handle off ramps, and the complexity beyond just a city street ... every different road you add is like an exponential to the difficulty that's required, and that's probably more like 30 years away." he said.

McKenzie predicts "mobility as a service", which would have an autonomous vehicle pick you up, similar to a taxi, is probably 10 to 15 years away.

The Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research received approval from the province to begin on-road testing two years ago.

Over 60 professors, engineers, researchers and graduate students are part of the program.

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