This spring will mark an important first for Canada. In late 2017, Infrastructure Canada announced a unique challenge, urging cities to think about their futures and how best to plan for them in an age of digital disruption. Last year, twenty shortlisted communities got the green light to start developing their strategies while tackling issues like connectivity needs, new mobility challenges, environmental considerations and others. This spring, the wait will be over as Canadian cities battle it out for the chance to put their plans into action.
Continuously placing high on the global livability rankings, Metro Vancouver is a region that draws attention and attraction from around the world. Having lived here my whole life, one phrase you’ll hear frequently in the city goes something like: “you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon.” In a region that is surrounded by ocean on one side and mountains on the other, this is a definite possibility. But with all its attributes, even we in Vancouver need to consider prospects for an increasingly connected and “smart” future – for us, that future hinges on mobility.
The City of Surrey and the City of Vancouver jointly submitted the #SmartTogether program in their bid to Infrastructure Canada. It proposes allocating funding towards the creation of two “collision-free” corridors, one in each city. These corridors will be achieved through the implementation of intelligent traffic systems and autonomous vehicles. Road safety in an era of explosive population growth and the emergence of new technologies like connected vehicles is also something that the city’s bid tackles. Removing the possibility of human error, Vancouver’s ELA, or Electric Automation, is a self-driving shuttle that utilizes sensors, cameras, and artificial intelligence to better understand and assess its surroundings.
I had the opportunity to test drive ELA a few weeks ago in the Olympic Village area of the city. Minimalist and efficient, draped in white and purple, and standing around the size of two NBA players stacked upon each other, the little shuttle couldn’t help but come across as a form of mobility reserved for the future. While the trip itself lasted only 10 minutes, I felt as comfortable and safe as I would in any other vehicle – maybe even more. ELA will never be tired or anxious; and because its smart system will consistently look for methods of optimizing best routes, speeds and travel times, it will never be angrily sitting in traffic. I also had the chance to check out Surrey’s Traffic Management Centre, where engineers control congestion by monitoring over 400 cameras and remotely adjust signal timing. The centre is slick and cutting edge – Surrey has installed AI capable of counting and identifying vehicle types and characteristics from the video feed of cameras. In the not-so-distant future, autonomous vehicles like ELA will communicate with AI-outfitted traffic management centres like Surrey’s to optimize routing and radically increase safety.
Ultimately, our future Smart Cities will minimize resources and maximize citizen satisfaction by creating meaningful outcomes for residents. The goal is to modify communities, making them more sustainable, innovative, and ‘smarter’ by incorporating the effective use of technology and new processes. The Information and Communications Technology Council is currently undertaking a multi-year research initiative investigating Smart City developments across Canada and their impacts on our economy and labour market. What better place to launch this initiative than in beautiful Metro Vancouver – the nation’s front-runner for a smart mobility future.
This spring, we will know which cities around Canada will be given the chance to hash out their smart future plans; and complementing this remarkable “first”, ICTC will launch its innovative initiative seeking to develop, build and support an inclusive, smart, and vibrant future economy that all Canadians can participate in.