You can ride a driverless shuttle for free in Calgary starting Saturday

Calgarians will soon be some of the first people in Western Canada to take a free ride on a public, driverless vehicle.

Calgary’s electric autonomous shuttle, dubbed the ELA, is one of two self-driving shuttles that will be available to the public this month in Canada — the other pilot project is running in Quebec.

On Sept. 8, the 12-passenger vehicle will begin transporting people between the Calgary Zoo and the Telus Spark science centre along a separate roadway, free of other vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.

The low-speed ride will take roughly 3½ minutes from one side to the other, and it’s open to online bookings and walk-ups. 

This is what seating inside ELA will look like. (Colin Hall/CBC)

“This is really helping us explore what the future could look like,” said Andrew Sedor with the City of Calgary. 

The project is a collaboration involving brains and money from academia, industry and all three levels of government.

Information gathered during the one-month pilot program will inform future urban planning decisions and help academics understand how people respond to changing technologies.

How it works

The driverless vehicle navigates its path using signals it receives from about 20 satellites orbiting Earth. It’s similar to how a car’s GPS works, but with far greater accuracy.

“We use our high precision technology that navigates to about two centimetres’ precision to keep the vehicle on its track,” explained Jonathan Auld, vice-president of engineering with Hexagon Positioning Intelligence.

This technology, combined with sensors mounted to the vehicle itself, are what enable ELA to pilot itself autonomously. (Colin Hall/CBC)

To help it avoid obstacles in its path, ELA is equipped with LIDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. 

Pulses of laser light detect objects or people in the vehicle’s path. If they come too close, the shuttle stops automatically.

While there’s no need for a driver, an operator will be stationed on board to help passengers feel at ease with the unfamiliar.

“Any new technology is scary when it first comes online. But humans are adaptive, right?” asked Sedor. “If we don’t like something, we can say ‘No’ to it.”

The pilot project is expected to run for one month, but it may be extended if it proves popular.

Pacific Western Group of Companies, which is helping to sponsor the project, says it plans to roll out similar pilot projects for British Columbia and Ontario.

“Obviously, this is the way of the future,” said Dan Finley, Pacific Western’s vice-president of business development.

“We want to be leading in this space. We want to bring this type of technology into Canada and allow the citizens of Canada … to experience this autonomous technology.”


With files from Carolyn Dunn and Colin Hall



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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.

History

Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
Geography

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

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