Autonomous Semi-Tractor Trailers in Canada?

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Jennifer Reardon, Associate Vice President, Transportation Integration & Ops Support, Canadian Tire.

The government of Canada’s Ontario Province is contributing one-third of the cost to test attended-autonomous semi-tractor trucks in short-haul service among rail terminals, warehouses and local distribution centers.

Backed by a $1 million matching grant from the Ontario government through the province’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN), national retailer Canadian Tire and Toronto-based startup NuPort Robotics, Inc., are each contributing $1 million toward a two-year project to apply proprietary AI (artificial intelligence) technology from NuPort Robotics to retrofit two conventional semi-tractor trailers with sensors and controls, a touchscreen navigation system and other advanced features such as obstacle and collision avoidance. The trucks will be attended-autonomous, meaning that there will be a driver in the cab.

The project partners describe the platform as “first-of-its-kind-in-the-world technology to enable safer, greener and more efficient transport of goods by semi-tractor trailers. The breakthrough technology provides a transportation solution for the middle-mile, the short-haul shuttle runs that semi-tractor trailers make among distribution centers, warehouses and terminals each day. It is designed to enable next-generation automated trucks that are more fuel efficient, safer to operate, and provide an enhanced driver experience.”

The trucks to which the autonomous system will be applied are currently transporting goods between a Canadian Tire distribution center in the Greater Toronto Area and railroad terminals within a 12.5 mile radius. “Early results are promising,” said Raghavender Sahdev, CEO of NuPort Robotics. “The aim of the project is to develop a system that incorporates an autopilot feature for conventional trucks with a driver, leading to the most efficient way to drive and increase safety. The sensors work as a ‘safety cocoon’ to cover blind spots and prevent accidents. The end result is peak fuel efficiency, meaning lower carbon emissions, and peak driving performance for an overall more optimal transportation experience. As NuPort Robotics continues to develop new technologies to overcome middle mile supply chain problems and advance autonomous trucking, I am grateful for the support of the Ontario Government through AVIN and the Ontario Centre of Innovation. With their continued support, we are striving to position Canada as the leader in autonomous transportation.”

NuPort Robotics calls its approach to autonomous trucking “unique in the industry because it focuses only on solving the middle-mile [problem], using a known set of predetermined trucking routes that are repetitive and high frequency, as opposed to general highway driving. Ultimately, when implemented on fixed routes in the future, Canadian Tire will benefit from faster commercial deployments and improvements in supply chain sustainability.”

“Canadian Tire embraces innovation and is always testing new technologies to improve our operational efficiency and safety,” said Gary Fast, Vice President of Transportation. “As proud Canadian companies, the safety of all stakeholders, including drivers, employees, customers and the public, will be the top priority as we work together towards deployment of this technology. 

“Over the past three years, Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, and NuPort Robotics exemplifies what we look for in a start-up with a focus on innovation, automation and AI,” added Cari Covent, Vice President of Intelligent Automation.

Raghavender Sahdev, CEO of NuPort Robotics.

NuPort Robotics, Inc., describes itself as “Canada’s first autonomous trucking company, founded in 2019 by Canada’s leading roboticists and AI professionals. Its mission is to improve transportation safety, increase efficiency and reduce costs for clients in retail, logistics and manufacturing. NuPort has established extensive partnerships with industry-leading sensor suppliers, OEMs, technology providers, research and academic institutions, which gives it an edge in the industry.” 

Canadian Tire, founded in 1922, is Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd.’s retail flagship, “providing Canadians with products for life in Canada across its Living, Playing, Fixing, Automotive and Seasonal & Gardening divisions. The company has more than 1,740 retail and gasoline outlets. A major customer of both CN and Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian Tire operates the largest supply chain network in Canada, with distribution centers in Bolton, Brampton, Calgary, Mississauga, and Vaughan.

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The Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) is an initiative by the Government of Ontario, led by the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI), “designed to reinforce Ontario’s position as a North American leader in transportation technology and infrastructure systems. Through resources such as research and development support, talent development, technology acceleration, business and technical support and demonstration grounds, AVIN provides a competitive advantage to Ontario-based automotive and mobility technology companies.”

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