Monday, September 2, 2013

On the Road Again, For the First Time.

*Note of correction: After further reading Paul Godsmark's blog with regards to the public transit impact of a self-driving car, I have corrected the post. My initial comment that his thoughts were off base was highly incorrect, due to a lack of information on my part (that's teach me to rely on one source), and I have amended the post to reflect the new information correctly. 

Source:  Huffington Post: Self Driving Cars are Coming to Canada

Despite previously alluding to some of the topics we might talk about this week, I decided to go to a different route talk about something a little more abstract.

There was news today that Canadian roads can expect to see driverless vehicles within the next four years. People who have been following tech giants, such as Google, are not surprised by the fact that driverless cars being developed; though some people might be surprised that they're closer to launch than anticipated.

Paul Godsmark, a retired highway designer, has said however that we need to worry about regulation and testing prior to the car's arrival. Godsmark has pointed out that the technology is coming regardless of whether or not Canadian roads are ready for it, and as such the question of regulation and legislation has become very important.

Personally, I welcome the self driving vehicle. Having done numerous trips going from Yorkton to Saskatoon (which usually takes a person the better part of over three hours) it would be refreshing to be able relax a bit more during that commute.

There are numerous trips throughout Saskatchewan that take over two and a half hours of driving time. And some of these routes have few stops far and in between destinations. As such, I'm sure no one will begrudge me if I said that is sometimes a chore to drive between one Saskatchewan community to another.

Not to mention the numerous thoughts of things you could be doing with your time rather than having to drive. The self-guided vehicle is the first step in rectifying some of these issues. And personally I believe Saskatchewan has a major role to play in setting policy and regulation for self driving cars throughout Canada.

Saskatchewan's population is growing, but we are still a sparsely populated province with thousands of kilometers of open space. We have kilometre and upon kilometer of open highway, it's the sort of testing conditions that a company would be interested in for self driving vehicle.

The very nature of our province suits itself to the testing grounds of a self driving vehicle. The article sourced quotes Alberta and Ontario as being contacted over the issue; and has both provinces saying they're paying attention to developments but have no plans to introduce regulations or legislation.

As such, Saskatchewan has a unique opportunity where it could position itself as a major forerunner in self driving technology by being the first jurisdiction in Canada to begin to propose regulations and legislation and allowed testing of such a vehicle on our roadways.

Saskatchewan also poses an interesting testing ground for such vehicle. For example, our winters would provide valuable data for how such a vehicle responds to ice and snow. Hazards such as natural wildlife, who often cross our highways, would allow companies who produce self driving vehicles to begin to come up with the technology needed to factor in such variables for future designs.

Saskatchewan would establish itself as a place to innovate automobile technology, while at the same time helping producers of such technology make their designs safer. You can't get much more of a win-win scenario than that.

Frankly, there's no reason I can see for the province not to move ahead on this kind of project. It's the exact kind of forward thinking, attention drawing project that would draw international recognition for the province. And where there is recognition there's new industry, new investment, and new infrastructure creation that in the long run would only benefit the province.

Godsmark makes a strong argument in suggesting that a self driving vehicle will reduce automobile accidents which in turn will see a decrease use of emergency rooms. As such, a self driving vehicle is a good first step in helping the province improve healthcare funding by taking the strain off of emergency rooms and hopefully allowing hospitals to repurpose their budgets to accommodate this new reality. He also has some comments on the implications this technology would have on public transit, and I would encourage anyone interested in the topic to head over to his blog for more information: Autonomous Vehicle Impacts.

Saskatchewan would be a good test case to see whether or not a decrease in emergency room usage could be the first step in helping to repair healthcare funding issues, and would likely encourage other provinces to follow suit in bringing the self driving car to Canada.

The province has a role to play here and I think it could be one of those perfect unions of government cooperation, company investment, and technological forethought that will really establish Saskatchewan's reputation as an international place for research and development.

If you'll forgive the bad pun, it's time for Saskatchewan to hit the road running on self driving car.


Paul Godsmark said...

Great blog! I appreciate why you may think that I am a little 'off-base' with my thoughts on why public transit use may dwindle, but in my defense I ask that you spend a few minutes looking over my blog, and particularly the posts on the inevitability of autonomous vehicle fleets, and the one on Automated Vehicle Zones. After reading those I will willingly accept any criticism that comes my way as at least then you have seen some of the context of my comments. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Saskatchewan, as forward thinking? Good luck at that one. Private or public private forward thinking maybe. Driverless cars will become a reality within this decade at least that is my belief. Driverless cars will become legal in Saskatchewan several years after that, Driverless cars will become popular years after that. Living in Saskatoon and have done the drive to Regina for football on several different occasions I can not wait for the day that I get in to a car it drives me to Mosaic Place, or what ever the new stadium will be called, I get out and it finds a parking spot. I am not holding my breath on the idea of Saskatchewan being forward thinking when it comes to driverless cars, I hope to be wrong.
Maybe in cooperation with one of the universities for academic study purposes, but not for any popular uses.

Scott said...

Well, anonymous, I'm going to have to disagree with a few points.

Given Saskatchewan's history as the first province to bring forward healthcare, and the first province to enshrine a Bill of Human Rights, the province does have a history of forward thinking.

Granted, some of that has fallen by the wayside over the past couple of decades; but there is still the sort of pioneer, can-do spirit that exists in the province. We just need to organize the will the bring it out.

I agree there are challenges in bringing something like this to Saskatchewan; especially if we rely solely on the government to take the initiative. There will need to be cooperation between business, government, and the universities in order to make this really work.

So, we certainly agree there at least.