Waterloo launches Canada's first driverless, autonomous 5G shuttle
The University of Waterloo is showcasing the operation of a driverless, autonomous shuttle research program that will transport students and staff around campus.
The demonstration of the shuttle, dubbed “WATonoBus” by the research team, is the first of its kind at a Canadian academic institution and marks a significant milestone in a multi-year initiative to demonstrate and integrate autonomous transportation onto the campus.
This milestone features another significant technological advancement, as the shuttle becomes the first in the country to operate remotely over Rogers 5G network, thanks to a Rogers partnership agreement with the University to advance 5G research in the Toronto-Waterloo tech-corridor. This past September, as Rogers expanded Canada’s largest and most reliable 5G network to reach more communities, it lit up the University’s 5G Smart Campus to support researchers developing 5G applications and use cases in a real-world setting.
The shuttle’s 5-stop, 2.7-kilometre journey around the Waterloo main campus, intersecting with the campus light rail transit stop, holds the potential to help reshape how entire communities move around their urban spaces.
“We are thrilled not only about WATonoBus, but what it represents,” said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo. “By marrying transformational research, infrastructure and a network of industry and government partnerships, we are demonstrating that educational institutions will help shape the future – in this case, the convergence of public transportation and smart urban mobility.”
The driverless shuttle with remote takeover capability will showcase a full-system approach, developed entirely at the University of Waterloo, led by Professor Amir Khajepour and a team of over 20 researchers in the Mechatronic Vehicle Systems Laboratory. Funding support has been provided by federal and provincial partners, as well as contributions from Applanix, RoboSense AI, and Rogers to make WATonoBus a reality.
The technology includes an integrated on-board sensor system providing vehicle intelligence and control; a suite of front, rear and side cameras providing a 360-degree view; light detection and ranging (LIDAR) active remote sensing systems used for detecting objects; and a WATonoBus smartphone app to help passengers navigate the campus using the shuttle.
“Today’s demonstration represents over four years of work with support and collaboration with government and industry partners,” Khajepour said. “This is an exciting step forward in autonomous, driverless public transportation.”
And, for the first time in Canada, an autonomous shuttle will be operated entirely on a remote basis using a 5G network. The modem on board will communicate through the Rogers 5G network with a research lab-based control centre. In the control centre, a remote operator will monitor the WATonoBus operations, and take over control when needed to ensure safe movement.
“As real-world 5G use cases such as the WATonoBus begin to take shape, we are starting to see the potential of 5G come to life,” said Jorge Fernandes, Chief Technology Officer at Rogers Communications. “Smart cities and smart transportation solutions are poised to help make cities safer, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. This example of 5G innovation demonstrates the importance of fostering 5G research and development to help fuel industries and drive Canada’s digital economy forward. We are proud to help enable this important 5G moment as part of our partnership with the University of Waterloo.”
Since lighting up the campus with 5G last year, Rogers has added next generation network technology and capabilities that will enable more intelligent and complex use cases and applications, including 5G mmWave (28GHz) small cells on campus, both inside buildings and outdoors, providing ultra-low latency and high bandwidth to support a variety of 5G research projects underway at the University.
The demonstration is the latest step of a multi-year initiative that is creating a testbed to evaluate automated driving on campus. Future industry partnerships will add more elements of a smart city on campus, a living testbed for advanced research, product development and data collection.
Before commencing operation as a regular service, the driverless shuttle system requires approval from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO). Currently, the University of Waterloo is a registered participant in Ontario’s Automated Vehicle Pilot Program, which permits testing of driverless AVs on Ontario roads.
Federal and provincial funding for the WATonoBus project has been provided through the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Research Fund and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
Q and A with the experts: How to protect your eyesight during the pandemic
The University of Waterloo has a number of experts available for comment on various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the pandemic began, access to eye care has continued to change. With high case counts in Ontario, the fear of contracting COVID-19 is still very real, and some patients are understandably hesitant to leave their homes for routine appointments. But, neglecting eye care can seriously put your overall health at risk, especially with work from home orders increasing screen time for most.
As the pandemic continues, can you afford to neglect your eye health any longer? Dr. Debbie Jones, an optometrist and professor, provides answers to this and other questions.
How will I know that I need to get an eye exam?
There are several reasons you might need to book an urgent appointment with your optometrist – no matter your age:
- Eye injury
- Eye pain
- New floaters or flashes
- Red eye
- Sudden change in vision
- Blank or wavy spots in your vision
However, I can’t stress enough how important it is to include routine eye care as part of your list of health care check-ups. Many eye diseases manifest silently, so you could have an early eye disease and not know it. Early detection is the often the only way an optometrist can effectively treat eye disease to preserve as much of your eyesight as possible.
Is it safe to book an eye exam during the pandemic?
Yes, it is very safe. Optometrists have been deemed essential frontline workers, so eye clinics remain open for regular appointments – not just urgent care.
Working from home, I sit in front of a screen all day. What can I do to prevent digital eye strain?
If you find yourself in front of a screen all day, try employing the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look up from your screen and focus your eyes 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Taking a break to focus on an item in the distance is critical in ensuring your eye muscles have the chance to relax after such prolonged exposure to your computer screen.
Don’t worry too much about measuring 20 feet exactly – the rule will still be effective as long as you’re focusing on an object far away. If you’re near a window, consider looking at a car parked down the street, or, even better – step away from what you’re doing and take a short break outside.
My children are spending hours in front of a screen every day as a result of online learning. How can I protect their eyesight?
Unfortunately, screen time may be directly contributing to further increases in childhood myopia (nearsightedness), as they spend extended periods of time focused on short distances.
Parents and caregivers can help prevent children from becoming nearsighted and slow down the rate at which the condition progresses by simply spending more time outside. Direct sunlight is a positive for children’s eye health, as well as children having the opportunity to long-range focus while playing outdoors. Restricting screen time is another option with optometrist-endorsed recommendations relating to screen times for children.
For children schooled at home where limits are not as practical, ensuring that the screen is not positioned too close to a child, encouraging regular breaks and using the 20-20-20 rule are all ways to help preserve their eyesight.
A Clinical Professor in the School of Optometry & Vision Science, Jones graduated in Optometry from City University in London, England. She is a fellow of the British College of Optometrists, holds a UK Diplomate in Contact Lens Practice and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry.
Velocity now supports the Problem Lab and Zero Experience programs
Adrien Côté, executive director, Velocity has been named Interim Director for Problem Lab following the conclusion of Larry Smith’s term as Director. Velocity will support the Problem Lab and Zero Experience teams until new leadership is defined.
“Larry’s leadership of the Problem Lab will surely be missed. The Problem Lab is just one of the many student experiences that Larry has created that have made a lasting impact at UW. Adrien has big shoes to fill but we are confident that he is the perfect person to provide the necessary guidance to the Problem Lab and Zero Experience programs for them to continue to grow and evolve,” said Chris Read, associate provost, students. “Adrien brings a wealth of student-startup experience that will carry Larry’s vision on.”
The Problem Lab will operate normally during the transition. The Problem Lab was established in 2018 with $300,000 in seed funding from Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, principals of Quantum Valley Investments® and founders of Blackberry to help students find and understand important problems—the critical, but often overlooked, first step of entrepreneurial innovation. Since its inception, the Problem Lab has already awarded $120,000 of R&D support to 24 winning teams through Quantum Valley Investments® Problem Pitch competitions. The Problem Lab team recently received 40 student pitches for the Spring 2021 Quantum Valley Investments® Problem Pitch competition and will announce the finalists in July. In addition, in partnership with the Centre for Career Action, the Lab will host two events for students in July: How to identify what to work hard on to get your promotion and Conducting a different kind of research to get ahead in the job market. Learn more about the Problem Lab.
Last fall, the Lab launched the Zero Experience, a 9-week program that let students practice innovation from the ground up regardless of their background. The Zero Experience program was created and is currently led by recent Computer Science alumnus Jackson Mills and recent Nanotechnology Engineering alumnus Holden Beggs. This term the program had over 400 applications from across all six faculties. Learn more about Zero Experience.