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Developers Push the Limits of Driverless Cars in Arctic Regions

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【Summary】Located close to the Arctic Circle, developers brave enough to deploy their self-driving prototypes in the area must take on icy roadways, crippling blizzards and dark, low visibility.

Michael Cheng    Apr 06, 2018 10:40 AM PT
Developers Push the Limits of Driverless Cars in Arctic Regions
author: Michael Cheng   

Some autonomous driving projects are designed to prepare vehicles for extreme environments and hazardous road conditions. One of these programs is called the Aurora Project, which is backed by the Finnish government.

Located close to the Arctic Circle, developers brave enough to deploy their self-driving prototypes in the area must take on icy roadways, crippling blizzards and dark, low visibility. Such projects are helpful for other countries located in cold-weather regions, including Canada.

Testing on the E8 ‘Smart' Highway

The scope of the Aurora Project includes the iconic E8 Highway, which stretches 880 miles from Norway to Finland. Businesses transporting salmon and other commercial goods commonly use the route, making it a primary driver of the local economy.

Interestingly, Finland welcomes automotive companies developing driverless cars to test their units at different parts of the highway. The government has injected a total of $8 million into the project. For efficient data-gathering, numerous sensors can be found along the road. The devices measure weight, acceleration, vibration and more.

The E8 highway is split into two parts. Norway's side of the roadway is governed by the Norwegian Public Road Administration. Autonomous platform developers interested in testing their prototypes on that section of the highway must register under the Borealis Project.

"The testing in Silicon Valley and Arizona, it's interesting, but something very different from the environment we have here," explained Alina Koskela, Finland's Transport Ministry Manager.

"And we thought, if we don't do this kind of development now — looking at how automated vehicles could work in our harsh environments — then we're going to miss out on the benefits of automated driving, things like traffic safety improvement, improved efficiencies and bringing down emissions."

So far, one notable prototype developed by the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland has been successful in navigating through the treacherous E8 highway. Called Martti, the modified Volkswagen Touareg was able to reach a top speed of 40 km/h on the road without lane markings.

Canada and Autonomous Research

The Aurora Project can help countries lagging behind in developing driverless vehicles, such as Canada, streamline progress. Through a report published by the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), Canada was recently put under the spotlight for its lack of innovation in autonomous driving research.

"While Canada has pioneered some important technological developments in the past… in comparison to its international counterparts, Canada is currently lagging behind in AV technology development and adoption," highlighted the ICTC.

ICTC analysts have provided a wide range of solutions for Canada, including the consideration of direct foreign investment and new policies for testing self-driving cars.

So far, Ontario is a main testing site for deploying prototypes, which was launched in 2016. The local government is aiming to reduce the requirements of testing, with the possibility of allowing trials without human drivers behind the steering wheel.

The US may also benefit from extreme testing in cold-weather regions. Some parts of the country, such as Michigan, Maine and Minnesota, experience harsh, icy weather – similar to Canada.

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