Driverless shuttle developed in Ottawa hits the road in Whitby

Whitby shuttle
A new self-driving vehicle will shuttle passengers to a southern Ontario transit station with help from sensors made by Ottawa's SmartCone Technologies. Photo courtesy SmartCone Technologies

An Ottawa startup’s self-driving vehicle technology will soon be helping shuttle passengers back and forth from a southern Ontario transit station in what the company calls a first-of-its-kind project in Canada.

SmartCone Technologies says the autonomous shuttle operated by its AutoGuardian subsidiary will begin transporting passengers later this year on a six-kilometre route that will start and end at the Whitby GO Transit station east of Toronto.

The electric shuttle is manufactured by Arizona-based Local Motors, and SmartCone’s high-tech sensors will help the vehicle detect pedestrians and other objects. 

The mini-bus will travel through the Port Whitby neighbourhood at speeds of up to 20 km/h, with a trained technician on board to take control of the vehicle if necessary. SmartCone says on-road testing is expected to start in the “coming weeks.”

The company says it’s the first time that a self-driving shuttle with obstacle-detecting sensors and other smart tech will be integrated into a Canadian transit service.

The provincial government is helping fund the project through its Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network. Other partners include Nokia, which is providing the wireless network infrastructure, and Ontario Tech University’s Automotive Centre of Excellence.

“Working with these technology leaders will be groundbreaking, and together we will show how an autonomous solution can come to market in a real-world and truly integrated environment safely and to the benefit of all,” SmartCone CEO Jason Lee said in a statement.

The Stittsville-based company has been honing its AV technology at Ottawa’s Area X.O test track, but self-driving vehicles are just one of its areas of focus.

Earlier this year, SmartCone won a contract from the Department of National Defence to develop a system that can identify, track and collect debris from satellites and other human-made objects floating in space.