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Whitby’s “self-driving” shuttle suspended following incident in which vehicle jumps curb, hits tree

Launched to the public November 2nd, Whitby’s “self-driving shuttle” pilot project makes a 6 kilometre loop from the GO station around to the lakeshore, through residential and industrial areas. Running in live traffic lanes in real, unpredicatable traffic conditions, it has a maximum speed of 20 kilometres per hour and does not operate in heavy rain or snow. Photo: RWN

December 18th update: Durham Region Transit has suspended operation of its “self-driving” shuttle project following an incident on December 16th. Photos published by Durham Radio News showed the shuttle had jumped a curb and hit a tree.

The male attendent of the shuttle was sent to hospital in serious condition, according to a press release issued by Durham Region Police:

“On Thursday, December 16, 2021, at approximately 3:50 p.m., members of West Division were dispatched to Victoria Street West and Watson Street West after a DRT autonomous bus left the roadway and struck a tree. The 23-year-old male safety attendant suffered critical injuries and was transported to a Toronto-area trauma centre. This was a single vehicle collision and the male safety attendant was the only person in the vehicle at the time. The Ministry of Labour were notified of this incident.”

Road Warrior News attended the official launch of the autonomous shuttle on November 1st, 2021; the article and videos captured at that time are posted below.

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Readers curious to experience state-of-the-art autonomous vehicle technology can go for a ride on the WAVE, Whitby’s “self-driving” shuttle pilot project. It has been organized by multiple government agency partners and AutoGuardian by Smartcone.

The pilot launched officially on November 2nd; Road Warrior News attended the November 1st media launch and videotaped one shuttle run in its entirety.

The summary conclusion is that on this trip, the vehicle was very much driven by Phil Karbach, the human shuttle operator.

On some sections of the 6 kilometre trip, the shuttle (nicknamed “Olli”) did indeed drive autonomously. However, Phil was required for constant correction and support, on some occasions taking over the piloting of the vehicle completely. To call the shuttle “self-driving” or “autonomous” would be a very large stretch of language; event organizers were clear about the fact that the project is very much a pilot, and that the vehicle is not in fact ready for the road on its own.

Two significant interrupters on the November 1st trip were autumn leaves blowing across the road, which Olli’s sensor/camera system interpreted as a reason to come to a full, sudden halt; and other drivers and vehicles – “because we have imperfect road users alongside of us” as explained by Phil.

In the interests of accuracy and reality, RWN did not edit the clips below but ran the camera for the entire trip, stop/starting only to prevent the video file from becoming too large.

The spokespersons throughout are Tennile Houston, CEO of AutoGuardian by Smartcone and AV Operations Manager Phil Karbach.

Whitby’s WAVE pilot project, description and objectives

The information below is provided by Connect Whitby:

Whitby Autonomous Vehicle Electric Shuttle Project

Residents of Whitby, Ontario will soon become the first in North America to ride an autonomous (self-driving) electric shuttle that integrates smart infrastructure along the route to help create safer roads for pedestrians, transit customers and other drivers.

The Whitby Autonomous Vehicle Electric (WAVE) shuttle pilot project is anticipated to begin on-road testing this summer, followed by public ridership later this year.

The shuttle route

The six-kilometre shuttle route will begin and end at the Whitby GO Transit station, making a loop through the Port Whitby area (in south Whitby).

Once public ridership begins, the shuttle service will be integrated into the existing Durham Region Transit (DRT) schedule (External link)as Route 300. The shuttle will operate weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. in off-peak times to minimize traffic impact on the community, and on weekends between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Project goals

This pilot project is being undertaken by various partners to learn about how automated technologies can contribute to safer, more sustainable and connected transit and traffic operations.

The pilot is the first time in Canada that an autonomous shuttle and smart infrastructure will be fully integrated into an existing transit service – as DRT Route 300 – providing the opportunity to assess the operational, financial and customer service benefits and implications of these technologies in community transit.

The pilot will also help to inform the physical and digital transportation infrastructure necessary to prepare for autonomous vehicles on public roads in Canada.

Safety is the top priority

WithSmart Torch safety as a top priority, the shuttle will operate at a speed of no more than 20 kilometres per hour and have a trained safety attendant on board at all times who can manually take control of the vehicle at any time, if required.

Shuttle riders will be required to follow all recommended provincial and local public health safety protocols for public transit related to COVID-19 in place at the time.

The service will also be aided by more than 50 pieces of smart infrastructure (such as the smart torch shown to the right) that eliminate blind spots experienced by any vehicle and provide real-time audio and visual alerts to other road users about the shuttle’s operation – helping to dramatically increase road safety.

Project sponsors

This project is supported by the Government of Ontario in funding through the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN), led by the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI).

The pilot is also being delivered through funding and the support and experience of local, national and international partners. These include SmartCone Technologies, AutoGuardian By SmartCone, the Region of Durham, Durham Region Transit (DRT), the Town of Whitby, Metrolinx, Nokia Canada, Ontario Tech, Durham College and other partners (see complete list of partners on this project page.)

AutoGuardian CEO and spokesperson Tennile Houston and AV Operations Manager Phil Karbach hosted media on pre-launch shuttle ride.
Olli’s sensors are so sensitive, it halts completely for dogs, squirrels, and blowing leaves, which was a challenge on November 1st; Olli stopped for a lot of leaves.
“Imperfect road users” required Ollie to be switched to manual controls. Canada has not yet determined how to insure autonomous vehicles, Tenille says, but at least two firms are working on developing new insurance products. The Whitby project is insured as part of Ontario’s pilot program.
CEO Tenille Houston remained absolutely unflappable during the trip, no matter what happened. She is an effective professional spokesperson.
Several drivers became too impatient to drive behind Olli at 20km per hour and pulled out to pass illegally then pulled back in quickly, in which case Ollie comes to a full stop. This was not well-received by the drivers behind Olli, which bears a red triangle “Slow Moving Vehicle” sign.