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Self-driver error? Tests show some cold, snowy facts about self-driving vehicles

The Lincoln MKZ developed by Renesas Electronics America, 25 researchers from the University's Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research and the QNX division of BlackBerry Inc., is in warmer climes this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

University of Waterloo

Steven Waslander is not calling it the winter of his discontent, but the University of Waterloo professor learned something important in putting an autonomous car through its paces in the parking lot of the Stratford Festival last month.

"What did we learn specifically? It's hard to drive autonomously in snowy conditions," Prof. Waslander said.

Fortunately, the Lincoln MKZ developed by Renesas Electronics America, 25 researchers from the University's Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research and the QNX division of BlackBerry Inc., is in warmer climes this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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Although Renesas America is a subsidiary of Japan-based semi-conductor maker Renesas Electronics Corp., the Stratford, Ont.-tested car is another example of how Canadian researchers and companies are seeking to grab a piece of the action as auto makers spend billions of dollars developing autonomous vehicles.

One of the key challenges as such vehicles are developed will be weather and how they respond to slippery roads, wind, rain and piles of snow on the sides of roads or highways that might keep critical sensors from operating the way they should.

The car will run every half hour during the next four days starting Tuesday on a closed course at the Las Vegas show as Renesas seeks to demonstrate the capabilities of its micro processors to auto makers and auto parts companies.

"The main objective is learning," said John Buszek, product market manager for advance driver assistance solutions (ADAS) for Renesas America.

"Getting in the car and trying to put a system together is the way you really start understanding the pain that our customers are going through when they try to make our processors do things within larger system."

The MKZ is not fully autonomous but can detect another vehicle, sense traffic lights and stop signs and drive a predefined route.

One of the key points Renesas America wants to show is how its systems cope with failure, Mr. Buszek said.

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If a component or system in the car fails, the car senses it and is able to keep driving and pull the car over to a safe location.

A human driver takes it on the Las Vegas course once and then it can drive autonomously after that first trip, said Prof. Waslander, who is an engineering professor at University of Waterloo.

"It can manage a lot of the basic steps of autonomous driving, so over the next six months we hope to take what we've built in Stratford and Waterloo and put it on public roads in 2017."

The University's Automotive Research Centre has developed its own autonomous car, called Autonomoose, which is also a Lincoln MKZ.

That car has received approval from the Ontario government for testing on public roads in the province.

Kanetix.ca, which describes itself as a Canadian online insurance marketplace, said Wednesday that a survey showed one in four Canadians are prepared to give up their steering wheels and let technology take over the driving.

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More

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