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Should autonomous cars be specifically snow-tested? Yes! In the five years I lived in Oregon, it snowed once – about a quarter of an inch overnight. It was a tiny skiff of snow, barely enough to obscure the road. Since I was a Michigan boy who grew up driving snowy roads, I drove into work the next morning without giving it much consideration. However, as I pulled onto the main highway, surprisingly, I saw several cars off the road in the ditch. The people still on the road weren’t doing much better – they were fishtailing wildly. This was a perfect case in point that if you’ve never driven in snow you don’t know how to do it safely.
Introducing Area X.O
The same is true for self-driving cars that have only ever seen warm California highways or sunny Arizona streets. I wouldn’t trust them to drive in winter climates unless they’ve trained under snowy conditions and tested on icy roads. Which is why I’m proud to say that Area X.O, one of the best autonomous test tracks for winter conditions, is just two minutes up the road from my house. Most of the press and news coverage has focused on Area X.O’s smart city infrastructure, comprehensive 5G connectivity, and real-time command center.
Smart and North
However, what I’m most excited about doesn’t seem to have been covered at all. Ottawa’s Area X.O is the northernmost facility for testing smart mobility solutions. We get real winters here: 175cm of snow each year and temperatures below zero for months. (Yes, it is very nice to live here, but it really helps if you like winter sports!) That means those nearly 2000 acres and 16 km of in-facility roads are open for OEMs, start-ups, and tech firms to test their equipment against some of Mother Nature’s worst conditions. We get drifting snow, whiteouts, and black ice here that tests even the best drivers.
Not to mention that Ontario is so far the only jurisdiction that will plate autonomous vehicles for public roads. Taking advantage of this, Area X.O includes 9 km of public roads in the heart of the Ottawa tech corridor that are fully 5G connected with sensors and V2X equipment and connected to the city’s sophisticated traffic control system. This capability expands autonomous winter testing to other aspects of winter driving that we in the Northern climes know and love:
- Managing changing traction conditions due to salt and sand on roadways
- Exercising extreme caution when driving around or behind snowplows
- Avoiding tire grooves frozen into the slush and snow flying off other cars
- Threading your way down gradually narrowing roadways as the plowed snow builds up throughout the season
Area X.O includes 9 km of public roads that have 5G connectivity for R&D purposes and are connected to the city’s advanced traffic infrastructure.
Do you need to get your self-driving cars winter-proofed? The answer is yes if you want your cars and/or technology to sell outside of sunny climes. We spoke with one of the people on the Area X.O team, and they’re most definitely taking on new clients. Unfortunately, with pandemic travel restrictions, that won’t be easy this year unless you’re already located on this side of the border. Do you need to test your autonomous cars in snow? Let us know and we’ll put you in touch with the right people!