A look at autonomous vehicles in Ontario

Written by: Natasha Kowalskyj, Social Media Summer Work Study
Edited by: Isabella Blandisi-Van Hee, Project Coordinator for Applied Research

The future of cities being smart, artificially intelligent, and ripe with autonomous technologies is not as far-fetched or “science fiction” as previously thought. The Government of Ontario has created the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) and has partnered with Durham College (DC) to make DC one of the six Regional Technology Development Sites (RTDS). These sites span across Ontario and revolve around the development of new technologies, all with different areas of focus; DC narrowing-in on the Human Machine Interface and the User Experience (“Regional Technology Development Sites,” 2019). In particular, DC, with the help of AVIN, will have the opportunity and ability to secure, test, and promote autonomous vehicles for the benefit of Durham Region. AVIN’s five main goals are: 1.) to commercialize autonomous vehicle transportation and infrastructure; 2.) to encourage innovation and collaboration; 3.) to leverage Ontario talent; 4.)  to build awareness around the fact that Ontario is a world-leading automotive manufacturer, and finally; 5.) to support regional auto-brain belt clusters (Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN), 2019). There are a multitude of initiatives, benefits, and opportunities for communities to adopt emerging technologies within this industry, however before we delve into those aspects, this post will first cover the ways in which autonomous driver-less/driver-assist vehicles operate and what criteria is currently legal in Canada. In doing so, the reader will gain a basic comprehension on the various modes of vehicle “autonomy.”

From a ground-level understanding, there are different ways to describe the levels of artificial intelligence within autonomous vehicles (AV). Vehicles today already have ‘driver-assist’ technology with low-levels of automation like cruise control, lane assistance, and emergency braking. However, it is important to note that these only assist the driver—the human driver is still fully responsible to stay engaged in driving at all times (Transport Canada, 2019a). Basically, when the word “automated” is used, the vehicle itself does not have the ability, independence, or intelligence to carry-out necessary functions without a driver present. Autonomous, on the other hand, means there is full vehicle control or “autonomy” present, and when applied, it means the vehicle [not the human driver] controls all functions of operating. Therefore, when the term “autonomous” is used, the car is highly intelligent and independent—it could go as far as to set the route, drive to get there, and maintain all functions of driving without any human intervention (e.g., staying within lanes, maintaining a legal speed and parking). In sum, as the level of automation increases, the intervention of a human driver becomes less imperative and the vehicle becomes more autonomous (SAE International, 2017).

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE’s) have developed a comprehensive scale, which dictates the levels of automation and intelligence that a vehicle has in place. Ranging from 0 to 5, the available autonomy will now be discussed in-depth.  First, Level 0 (no automation) can be described as full-time control of the vehicle by a human driver, (SAE International, 2017) where there is no intervening system within the vehicle to assist the driver, (Skeete, 2018) and is essentially described as any car that relies solely on humans to perform tasks of driving, but may feature cruise control or crash warnings without intervention (Hyatt, 2018).

Next, Level 1 (drive assistance) means there is a driver-assistance system in place for the automation of either the steering or acceleration/deceleration (SAE International, 2017). In this level, the human driver is still necessary to perform all other tasks of driving like controlling the speed and driving safely (and everything in between). However, within this level, the driver could have assistance from the vehicle for parking (Skeete, 2018), lane-keeping technology, or adaptive cruise control (Hyatt, 2018). Essentially, a Level 1 vehicle will have one distinct advanced driver-assistance feature, the mobility is still supervised by a human driver but for convenience, the Level 1 AV can maintain its own speed (Hyatt, 2018).

Level 2 (partial automation) is not far removed from Level 1, however, Level 2 means the AV will have the ability to execute one or more driver-assistance systems, including steering and acceleration/deceleration (SAE International, 2017). With this said, the expectation is that the human driver will intervene when prompted by the vehicles to complete remaining aspects of driving within the autonomous vehicle, which would include everything aside from braking, steering, or acceleration— aspects of driving which a Level 2 vehicle can control with its multiple Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) (Hyatt, 2018). An example of a Level 2 autonomous vehicle is the General Motors Super Cruise, Mercedes-Benz Distronic Plus, Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, and Tesla’s Autopilot vehicle are all vehicles with two or more assist technologies, making them Level 2 automated (Hyatt, 2018).

Level 3 (conditional automation), and beyond, is where the vehicles autonomy is increased drastically through its automated driving system, which monitors the driving environment; the AV can complete all aspects of driving with the expectation that the human driver will take over when prompted to intervene (SAE International, 2017). Any Level 3 AV is capable of taking full control of driving and operating during select parts when certain operating conditions are met, and the 2019 Audi A8 is aiming to be the first Level 3-capable vehicle brought to the public. However, they are still awaiting legal approval from many countries (Hyatt, 2018). From Level 3 and onwards, the AV is able to control operational features like steering, braking, and monitoring the roadway, other vehicles, as well as tactical tasks like changing lanes and using signals (SAE International, 2017). As of January 2019, according to Transportation Minister, Jeff Yurek, Level 3 conditional AVs are legal to drive on the roads in Ontario. This occurred after the province allowed the on-road testing of autonomous vehicles, which stems from a 10-year pilot project launched back in 2016 (The Canadian Press, 2019).

Next, Level 4 (high automation) means that little to no human interaction within the vehicle. At this level, even if the AV sends a request for the human to intervene and the human does not respond immediately, it can still perform all functions of driving autonomously (SAE International, 2017). While there are currently no Level 4 AVs on the road today, they are projected to be able to complete an entire journey without human intervention, while still featuring a steering wheel and pedals for when it is required that a human assume control of the vehicle (Hyatt, 2018).

Last, Level 5 (full automation) is the final level of vehicle autonomy presently on the market. Here, human driving is completely unnecessary, to the point where these vehicles are being projected to not feature any steering wheel or pedals (Hyatt, 2018). Defined as a fully autonomous end-to-end journey (Skeete, 2018), with the advanced software of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-environment communications present, Level 5 AVs are set to be geographically unconstrained and will allow for all sorts of freedoms while commuting. They will even eliminate the need to own a car, in an AV future (Hyatt, 2018).

While these ADAS are being created, tested, and implemented into smart cities all around us, this does not mean we will be sitting in a car without a steering wheel any time soon in Ontario. The testing of such autonomous vehicle innovations will be ongoing for the foreseeable future (until perfected) in order to eliminate any of the potential risks, threats, or adversities like Canadian winters and how those uncontrollable factors will affect autonomy in vehicles. Until then, this blog will strive to keep you up-to-date on all of the latest innovations in this field.


Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN). (2019). Retrieved from https://www.avinhub.ca/

Hyatt, K., & Paukert, C. (2018, March 29). Self-driving cars: A level-by-level explainer of autonomous vehicles. Retrieved from https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/self-driving-car-guide-autonomous-explanation/

Mercer, C., & Macaulay, T. (2019, March 12). Companies Working On Driverless Cars You Should Know About. Retrieved from https://www.techworld.com/picture-gallery/data/-companies-working-on-driverless-cars-3641537/

Regional Technology Development Sites. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.avinhub.ca/regional- %20technology-development-sites/

SAE International. (2017). Automated driving levels of driving automation are defined in new SAE international standard J3016 [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20170903105244/https://www.sae.org/misc/pdfs/automated_driving

Skeete, J. (2018). Level 5 autonomy: The new face of disruption in road transport. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 134, 22-34. doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2018.05.003

Transport Canada. (2019a, February 15). Automated and connected vehicles 101. Retrieved from https://www.tc.gc.ca/en/services/road/innovative-technologies/automated-connected-vehicles/av-cv-101.html#_What_is_an