Despite all of the recent pushes in Canada for automated driving and the amount of research being done in the country, it may not be enough to truly prepare consumers for the full realization of the technology.
The recently-released Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index is an annual ranking put together by KPMG that measures 25 countries on how well they can adopt technologies surrounding self-driving cars. Canada dropped from seventh in 2018 to twelfth place this year, while the Netherlands took the top spot, followed by Singapore and Norway.
“Canada’s main strengths on AVs are the high quality of its existing workforce, its status as an attractive and open destination for skilled immigrants and strong leadership from different levels of government that see the potential benefits,” according to Colin Earp, the national transport lead for KPMG in Canada.
The main criteria for the rankings is split into four different pillars. First is policy and legislation, which includes topics like automated vehicle (AV) regulations, government-funded AV pilots, readiness for change, and the overall data-sharing environment. Canada’s ranking was its highest here out of the four total pillars: eighth out of 25. Diving deeper, Canada (along with Czech Republic, Singapore and South Korea) led the pack in terms of government-funded AV pilots, such as Ottawa’s recently announced 16 kilometre AV test track, which was funded by the Ontario-supported Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network.
The next pillar is technology and innovation, which Canada placed eleventh out of 25 in. This section includes industry partnerships, investments, and the availability of the latest technology within the country. While Canada is home to a lot of advanced AV testing technology—Uber’s only test AVs and research lab outside of the U.S. is in Toronto, and they recently pledged $200 million to grow their engineering presence here—there is a lack of homegrown AV technology. BlackBerry has their own innovation centre for AVs and is working with the University of Waterloo to test self-driving technology lovingly called the Autonomoose, but projects like these are fewer and more far between compared to other leaders in the space.
Canada’s rank in infrastructure is its worst out of all four pillars: sixteenth. This section involves the density of EV charging stations, quality of mobile internet, road infrastructure, and overall logistics. This is a problem specific to Canada: As the second-largest country in the world, creating technology systems that work in remote areas is difficult, considering several communities in the north are now just getting faster internet speeds. In order for AVs to truly be successful, they must be able to run and communicate with a network across the country. Projects like the $300 million Smart Cities Challenge are working to bring tech solutions to remote areas, and the $400 million public/private ENCQOR project will advance 5G networks, but it may not be enough, at least in the short-term.
The final ranking pillar is consumer acceptance, where Canada placed eleventh. This section involves consumer opinions, ride-hailing penetration, adoption of technology, and how many citizens live in AV test areas. A recent Ipsos poll from 2018 found that only 18 per cent of Canadians were in favour of self-driving cars, while 58 per cent were unsure but “found the idea interesting.” Close to a quarter of Canadians (24 per cent) said they were against self-driving cars and would never use them, compared to a 13 per cent average from 28 total represented countries. Overall, Canada and the U.S. are the two countries least accepting of AVs.
Despite this kind of negative approach to the future of AVs, Canada is still very much in the market for the new technology. Provinces like Ontario are trying to get ahead by passing legislation that will allow the next generation of AVs to hit the road as soon as they are developed, while companies like Algolux and BlackBerry continue to make strides in the industry.
“There’s this real feeling that transport drives not just economic productivity, it drives social equity and commercial activity,” says Earp. “In that respect, you’re seeing civic, provincial and national leaders really begin to create an inclusive and collaborative culture to drive better transportation in the future, including AVs.”