Experts at international convention predict a safer future with self-driving cars


MONTREAL — Experts attending an international convention on intelligent transport systems say the increasingly interconnected world is good news for motorists.

Claude Arpin, a Bell Mobility product specialist, says it all comes down to providing access to real-time information.

He cites as one example putting data on a car’s dashboard to allow a motorist to find a parking spot without having to drive all around the city.

“Information is really going to be the key,” he said in an interview Wednesday, pointing to Montreal as an example of a smart city.

“Montreal did something fantastic two years ago when they equipped their snowplows so the citizens can actually know when the plow is going to be on their roads. You’re getting information before your car is towed.”

Arpin said that with the move toward self-driving vehicles, carmakers are asking mobile service providers what services and content can be provided inside their vehicles.

“We’re talking about the future here,” he said at the Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress.

“If you’re not driving the car, you might as well read a book, watch a movie, do a video conference or even some office work.”

Joanna Hazelden, a policy adviser with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, sees a number of benefits to autonomous vehicles.

“Primarily it’s taking the human driver out of the equation,” she said in an interview at the convention.” Right now, humans cause the majority of accidents on roads, so take them out.

“Machines will eventually be better drivers.”

She added that autonomous vehicles will be a boon for people who have limited mobility.

Hazelden said seven companies have already been testing their automated technology on the open roads of Ontario.

“We’re the first and only province that allows autonomous vehicle testing,” she said.

But if the experts are to be believed, don’t expect self-driving cars to take over anytime soon.

Hazelden said it is going to happen, but only after a gradual process.

The first step will be under certain conditions, including good weather conditions and driving at lower speeds.

“So at first, you’ll be able to take control of the vehicle at any time,” she said.

But eventually self-driving vehicles will be able to manage all types of conditions and do all the getting around.

“There are debates as when exactly we all will be able to take our hands off the wheel and not drive,” she said. “It’s down the road.”

In the meantime, one company that supplies traffic barrels to construction companies uses technology to try to make congestion problems less stressful.

James Delamere, the president of Stinson-Owl Lite, a traffic management firm, says some of the big orange barrels also have traffic sensors inside them, which measure vehicle volume and speeds.

“From that we can use analytics to send a message down to a sign on the side of the road that will tell the driver how long it will take to get downtown or some other point in between,” he said.

“It’s all about giving the public information to reduce their level of frustration so they can understand what’s happening ahead.”

Delamere said the average person sitting in his or her car doesn’t realize what’s going on behind the scenes.

“We’re trying to make it better for everybody and the internet of things (and) cellular technology is really accelerating our ability to manage traffic,” he said.

Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press