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Legalizing autonomy

The University of Waterloo's "Autonomoose". The first self-driving vehicle legally authorized to drive on Ontario roads.

The University of Waterloo’s “Autonomoose”. The first self-driving vehicle legally authorized to drive on Ontario roads.

I had a chance to speak with Jim Walker, VP of Case IH, during the U.S. Farm Progress Show last August. As we stood in front of his brand’s autonomous Magnum tractor we discussed the factors that were bound to affect the widespread introduction of robotic field tractors, just like that Magnum. One of the things he mentioned that was holding back the introduction of these machines by major brands was the lack of supporting legislation in various parts of the U.S. and Canada.

Among other things, manufacturers need the assurance that they won’t get sued every time something goes wrong. And farmers will need to move autonomous machines on or across public roads to access fields and get work done. Without supporting legislation to allow those sorts of things—and others—the big name brands will be reluctant to jump head first into the marketplace and sell off-the-shelf autonomous equipment.

Now, the lack of legislation around both robotic machinery and autonomous on-road vehicles in Canada is beginning to change. Although, only in baby steps so far. What may be the first example of that was announced last week. As part of a pilot project, the province of Ontario has just authorized the University of Waterloo to conduct autonomous vehicle trials on roads in that province.

I am pleased to announce that the University of Waterloo is one of the first approved applicants of our Automated Pilot Vehicle program,” said Ontario’s transport minister Peter Del Duca, in a prepared statement. “As a result, Waterloo will be among the first eligible to operate an autonomous vehicle on a public roadway in Canada.”

The university will be conducting self-driving trials using their specially equipped Lincoln MKZ, nicknamed the “Autonomoose”. However, a driver will still be behind the wheel ready to take control in the event of a systems failure.

The ability to take this research work to the next level while safely testing on all kinds of roads in Ontario represents a significant leap forward in this field,” said Krzysztof Czarnecki, a lead researcher and professor in Waterloo’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Cheriton School of Computer Science, also in a press release.

And the University of Waterloo wasn’t the only one to get this kind of approval for testing. BlackBerry QNX and Erwin Hymer Group, manufacturer of Roadtrek motorhomes, also received approval to test automated vehicles on Ontario roads.

Self-driving motorhomes? I guess having one would allow you to travel the country without even getting out of bed in morning!

It may not be the kind of full-fledged approval ag equipment manufacturers like Case IH are waiting for, but it’s certainly a move in that direction.

Scott

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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