The Ottawa International Airport could become the first location in Canada with a driverless shuttle service for public use.
The airport authority and others are looking at introducing an autonomous shuttle to ferry people from external parking lots to the terminal on a regular route, a proposal that’s still in its early stages.
“We are interested in participating in it,” said airport spokeswoman Krista Kealey. “It is premature to say if and when, but it is something that we are very interested in seeing go forward.”
Earlier this year, airport president and CEO Mark Laroche talked about the project at an autonomous vehicle conference in Ottawa.
He foresaw a shuttle running from the airport’s external parking lots to the terminal that could carry between four and eight passengers, be accessible to travellers with disabilities and have “winter capabilities.” It could also include a memory recall system that would store departing passengers’ information to help them locate their vehicle when they returned, he said.
Although autonomous vehicles have been demonstrated at various Canadian sites — including on Parliament Hill and a test by Blackberry QNX in Kanata last fall — there are no ongoing services using them yet. Autonomous shuttle services are operating in other countries, including France and the U.S., said Barrie Kirk, executive director of the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence.
In his presentation, Laroche said the airport project would be Canadian “from the designer to final user.” It would have the potential to become a living reference design lab and showcase the work of the autonomous vehicle industry.
The airport authority has been working with Invest Ottawa and others looking at the potential project, said Kealey.
“We are definitely interested. We consider it an important part of the future of transportation and we pride ourselves on being a part of any projects where we can play a role and provide value.”
Michael Tremblay, president and CEO of Invest Ottawa, said there is desire to find projects in Ottawa to showcase autonomous vehicles as the industry develops.
“I think part of that is just that Ottawa is so chock full of autonomous vehicle capability, so we are kind of chomping at the bit looking at used-case scenarios. I am hoping eventually we can do something with the airport.”
Tremblay said a number of ideas are being looked at, but an airport shuttle makes sense because it could operate in a relatively controlled environment.
Kirk said autonomous shuttles operate at low speeds — a maximum of 25 km/h — and work best in controlled environments, rather than on highways with high-speed vehicles.
Kirk said Canada is doing well when it comes to developing technology for autonomous vehicles, but when it comes to having them in service, “we are lagging.” In France, at a nuclear power station, for example, autonomous shuttles have been operating for several years taking employees to work sites. There are also other places around the world where autonomous transport systems are in use.
Windmill, which is developing the Zibi site on the Ottawa River, has also said it is interested in looking at autonomous vehicles for use there.