The CBC News once asked the question whether Vancouver was Silicon Valley North? Since that time, the technology industry in this City has grown and boomed.  Concurrently, the technology with Autonomous Vehicles has advanced immensely.

But what is the current status of Autonomous Vehicles in the USA, Canada and Vancouver? When will we be able to use them?

What is an Autonomous Vehicle (Self Driving Vehicle)?

An Autonomous Vehicle is more popularly referred to as a self-driving vehicle, a driverless car, or a robotic car. In brief, they are vehicles that a human does not need to operate and instead, are controlled and driven by internal computers and computer software (which will likely be connected to the internet and/or various satellites).

The technology for Autonomous Vehicles have been developed to the point where different nations (including Canada the U.S.) are testing them on public/private roads.

Status of Autonomous Vehicles in the USA

Our neighbours to the South have taken impressive steps towards having Autonomous Vehicles more present in the everyday life of the consumer.  For example, according to Mark A. Geistfeld of the New York University School of Law, companies in the U.S. have commenced testing Autonomous Vehicles with “Waymo technology [having] already driven over five million miles on public roads and been subjected to computer simulations equivalent to five billion miles of driving”.[i] 

Concurrently, Tesla has developed the Smart Summon software it installs in many of its current vehicles which, in simple terms, enables a vehicle to park itself with no assistance from the driver.  It seems consumers can expect that an advanced version of this technology, or something closely connected, will be found in cars more readily as ownership of Autonomous Vehicles become more likely. 

Status of Autonomous Vehicles in Canada

With respect to technology, an August 2019 article in the Globe & Mail suggests that Canada is leading the way with Autonomous Vehicles. As the article suggests, “making sure that the artificial intelligence on board an Autonomous Vehicle works without error is a huge challenge today, and [Canada leads] internationally in this area”. This is of course is an important step for the implementation of Autonomous Vehicles in this nation. 

That said, although Canada is excelling in the development of technology, it seems to be failing at the development of legislation (the law governing the operation of Autonomous Vehicles).  In order for Autonomous Vehicles to be an option for consumers, there must be proper law and insurance in place. Until that happens, we will not have the option to drive Autonomous Vehicles.

Status of Autonomous Vehicles in Vancouver

One may recall when an Autonomous Vehicle, a white 4-door Tesla sedan, was spotted operating at the parking lot in Richmond Centre in November 2019; it was front page news.  This of course was contrary to the laws of British Columbia.  Currently, the sale, purchase, or use of an Autonomous Vehicle is illegal in our province. However, in early 2019, the Province did permit its cities to introduce driverless shuttles as a part of the Smart Cities – Smarter Together Challenge; as noted on the website:

Surrey and Vancouver will implement Canada’s first two collision-free multi-modal transportation corridors, leveraging autonomous vehicles and smart technologies to demonstrate the path to safer, healthier, and more socially connected communities while reducing emissions, improving transportation efficiency, and enhancing livability in the face of rapid growth and traffic congestion.

The fact that British Columbia has permitted, even celebrated, this project is a good sign.  British Columbia will ideally use the hopeful success of this initiative as the foundation of accepting Autonomous Vehicles as a realistic option for transportation in the private sector.  Certainly, due to this project, the Province may take a slower approach to permitting Autonomous Vehicles on our roads and rather, permit public transportation (e.g. buses, taxis, etc.) to be autonomous, first.  Thereafter, the government may be more keen to permit consumers to purchase Autonomous Vehicles privately.  Irrespective of that, the nation must first develop the legislation and the law to govern Autonomous Vehicles, accordingly.

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