While we have come a long way since the advent of ABS brakes, this driver assistance technology was the first breakthrough in vehicle intelligence, which today promises to transform the world of transportation. The experts agree: we are at the dawn of a major revolution.
The technology is now advanced enough that many cities are diving feet first into autonomous transport pilot projects. In Quebec, Bill 165 has given the minister the authority to greenlight initiatives that will bring self‑driving vehicles and shuttles into the public realm. The Canadian government is also working with the provinces on a national strategy that should be announced in 2019.
Quebec’s weather remains a major challenge. Existing smart navigation systems are still struggling to deal with the full range of weather conditions, especially snow. Although the vehicles aren’t 100% autonomous yet, they soon will be. The PIT Group, a research center affiliated with advanced technology research organization FPInnovations, is currently working with a consortium of Quebec companies to design and build a self‑driving shuttle that works in Quebec’s challenging winter conditions in the next three years.
Transportation that’s truly intelligent
Self‑driving vehicles will be used, first and foremost, to improve public transit. This could mean picking people up at their homes and taking them to high‑performance transit system stations, like those of the REM.
Says Yves Provencher, Director of Business Development and Emerging Markets with the PIT Group, “What we’d eventually like to see is a decrease in single‑passenger vehicles.”
It’s an important point. If everyone owned a self-driving vehicle, the revolution could quickly become a nightmare. “Imagine what it would be like if everyone who works in downtown Montreal got dropped off by their self‑driving cars in the morning and then all those cars went home to avoid paying for parking. Then the cars would come back to pick up their owners at the end of the day. There would constantly be cars on the road. The traffic would be insane!” says Yves Provencher.
“At the very least we need to develop shared vehicle services, like Car2Go but with self‑driving vehicles. It would be even better if we could get shuttles transporting fifteen or so riders at once.”
For Marie-Hélène Cloutier, Vice President of Passenger Experience, Marketing and Sales with Keolis Canada, “Modern, reliable self-driving shuttles could potentially dissuade people from using their vehicles. That would improve traffic flow while reducing the number of accidents on the road, driving‑related stress, and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Quebec all set to lead
Quebec could become one of the dominant players in the global smart vehicle industry, especially when it comes to self‑driving shuttles. With a high concentration of world‑class researchers in artificial intelligence, the province is currently a leader in the development of smart navigation systems.
Not to mention that, over the years, Quebec has acquired considerable expertise in the design of public transit vehicles (as opposed to passenger vehicles), giving the province an undeniable competitive advantage in the development of smart vehicles for public transit.
Autonomous transport for a prosperous future
The advent of autonomous transport and the corresponding decrease in traffic, fuel consumption, and vehicle accidents could save Canadians $65 billion per year. These new technologies would lead to the creation of hundreds of jobs and the rise of new economic sectors.
 Report by Comité sénatorial permanent des transports et des communications. Paver la voie. Technologie et le futur du véhicule automatisé. January 2018.