The City of Windsor, University of Windsor and St. Clair College will be making a pitch to Ford Motor Company of Canada to have autonomous vehicles tested on Windsor roads.
Mayor Drew Dilkens said representatives from Ford have told the city over the phone to send an expression of interest letter to the company. There is no deadline for this, but Dilkens said they hope to have it sent by the end of the week.
“We wouldn’t expect it to happen overnight,” Dilkens said Monday. “We’re working with the college, working with the university to put that letter together to get ourselves in the queue for discussion.”
Dilkens said the city would face some strong competition for this reward, including from the State of Michigan, whose governor has announced a 332-acre autonomous vehicle site.
The City of Stratford recently announced a partnership with the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association to test these vehicles.
But Windsor has some advantages, said Dilkens. The research at the university’s Cross-Border Institute could help with testing these vehicles to cross into the U.S.
“Knowing that some point of when, not if, but when the time autonomous vehicles hit the road in a commercial fashion, they’re going to have to be able to cross the border as well, so we have that real-world environment where we can actually test that,” he said.
The mayor said Windsor’s generally flat ground and “unique climate” are also good selling points.
The self-driving vehicles could also be used to test transit from Essex County into the city, he said.
“We want regional transit, but if these things commercialize in a fairly short order, there may be something helping to pick up the slack that exists right now,” he said.
Tony Faria, director of the Office of Automotive and Vehicle Research at UWindsor, said testing could be performed on essentially any city’s roads, but Windsor could have an advantage in being less congested than areas like Toronto or Los Angeles.
A company would also want to test these vehicles in an area with research capabilities, said Faria.
“Windsor certainly is close with both the research facilities for the auto industry that exist here in Essex County, plus right across the river in the Detroit area, which is a much, much bigger centre for automotive (research and development) activity than Essex County is,” he said.
Faria said autonomous vehicles will be part of the future of the auto industry, with Japanese car companies already planning on selling them by 2020.
“Clearly billions of dollars are being spent industry-wide to get ready for this technology which pretty much undoubtedly will come,” he said. “The only question is which format and exactly when.”