DC students help prepare our roads for self-driving cars and the future of innovative technology

Autonomous vehicles (AV) – also known as self-driving cars – are no longer ambitious predictions for the future; by 2030 the AV market is predicted to be worth nearly $60 billion USD. With big names like GM, Tesla and Google testing and bringing AV products to market, and news articles outlining the benefits or drawbacks, the wheels are already in motion when it comes to the future of transportation. But as organizations focus their efforts on making AVs a reality, municipalities have the responsibility of making sure their roads are ready for them – and that’s where Durham College’s (DC) electronics and civil engineering technology students provided their expertise this winter.

As the COVID-19 pandemic impacted field placements and capstone for some programs, the Office of Research Services, Innovation & Entrepreneurship (ORSIE) leveraged their community partnership with the Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA) to provide a unique opportunity for DC students. Tasked with creating the foundational elements for a standardized roadway rating tool, seven engineering technology students worked in project groups to create a theoretical model and concept of what constitutes a “good road” for autonomous vehicles.

Considering speed and traffic volume, as well as the number of defects found on a road (the students defined up to 80 types), this tool will help OGRA and its municipality members determine whether their current infrastructure can support autonomous vehicles.

“Providing students with opportunities like this is what innovation and applied research at Durham College is all about,” says Chris Gillis, manager, Applied Research Business Development. “This project allows our students to put their knowledge into practice while also working on an incredible initiative that will have a real and lasting impact on their communities and the future of technology.”

During the project, students compiled research, developed checklists, created reports, and visited busy roadways in-person to manually test the preliminary rating tool they developed. For some, this project helped them to meet the report writing requirement for certification as a Certified Engineering Technologist under Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists (OACETT).

With that first phase complete, OGRA will bring the tool to their municipalities to test and provide feedback that will help take the students’ work to the next level. After that, the process can be automated through artificial intelligence and roads can be mapped to get our streets ready for the future.

Experiential learning like this is available in numerous ways to most DC students, allowing them to test their capabilities and enhance the knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom, network and make industry connections and gain real-world work experience that will help them stand out in a competitive job market. To learn more, please visit www.durhamcollege.ca/experiential-learning.

For more information on DC’s autonomous vehicle applied research (AVAR), please visit www.durhamcollege.ca/avar.