In a Canadian first, a fully autonomous delivery vehicle with no safety driver onboard has been deployed on public roads in the Greater Toronto Area.
Self-driving technology company Gatik and Canadian grocer Loblaw Co. announced the milestone Oct. 5 after spending nearly three years piloting the autonomous vehicle (AV) technology on a 21-kilometre route in Brampton, Ont.
“This is the first fully driverless commercial operation in Canada,” Gatik CEO Gautam Narang told Automotive News Canada.
A specially outfitted Ford Transit 350 box truck began making several daily circuits between a Loblaw fulfillment centre in Brampton and a nearby Real Canadian Superstore retail location without a safety driver in early August. It is shuttling online grocery orders as part of Loblaw’s PC Express service.
“These are surface streets with traffic lights, four-way intersections, three-way intersections,” and no shortage of aggressive drivers, Narang said.
Gatik’s driverless system, on the other hand, is conservative by design.
Narang said it has a 100-per-cent safety record with no accidents tracing back to the start of deployment on the Loblaw route in early 2020. But that does not mean the automated system has been flawless since the outset. Up until August, the vehicle had a safety driver onboard, and Narang said that during the initial stages of the project, the driver did have to intervene.
But those days are over.
With the driverless system having built an intricate understanding of the route, Gatik, Loblaw and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO), signed off on pulling the safety driver out of the cab earlier this year. The Mountain View, Calif.-headquartered company also consulted with municipal authorities and local first responders throughout the process, Narang said.