Could Calgary be a leader in autonomous vehicle testing?

Technology is changing the world. It changes the way we communicate, it changes the way we work and it changes the way we move.

When it comes to transportation the future is autonomous. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are already making an impact in North America and the technology is steadily improving. It is predicted that by 2050 nearly half of the vehicle fleet on our roads will be either highly automated or fully automated. In order to advance AV technology, testing opportunities will need to be created. These opportunities need to be supported by appropriate regulations and provide access to roadways and infrastructure to conduct the testing.

So why are AVs going to be a big part of our future? It is estimated that driver error is responsible for more than 90% of collisions and human factors are one of the largest contributors to congestion. AVs also create a potential for job creation and economic benefits. It is projected that AVs will contribute to $7 trillion worth of economic activity by 2050.

So how does Calgary position itself as a prime destination for companies looking to test AV technologies?

  1. We find a niche in the industry. Oil and gas remains the key driver of our local economy. Many of the technologies utilized in oil and gas could lead to spin off benefits for other industries. One specific example that comes to mind is local expertise in geomatics that could be applied directly to AV technology. This specific expertise has over 2,300 companies in Calgary that employ over 17,000 people.
  2. Government needs to get out of the way as much as possible. In order for the AV industry to flourish, government needs to keep the regulatory environment lean. Of course we need to have regulations in place for things like personal and property protection, but we cannot allow those regulations to scare away companies that might want to test their technologies.
  3. We must offer suitable testing tracks. Administration is currently taking stock of our assets to see what might be attractive for testers. The current testing track candidates are assets like parking lots, parkades, public parks and public roadways. While this list is a great starting point, I think we have other assets we could look at leveraging as well. I look immediately to the Shepard Waste Management Facility in southeast Calgary. At Shepard we have a very large site with access to numerous internal roadways that could facilitate testing for a wide variety of AV technologies.
Shepard Waste Management Facility

We are going to have a very interesting discussion about the future of AVs in Calgary at committee on Friday. Council should be looking to the private sector for some guidance on establishing Calgary as a leader in AV testing and technological advancement. I do hope we hear from some terrific speakers at committee and find ways to continue moving this discussion forward.