New to connected and autonomous vehicles (C/AVs)? We’ve compiled a list of most commonly asked questions.

concept of self driving cars

What are connected and autonomous vehicles (C/AVs)?

Connected Vehicles (CVs) are able to gather information from and communicate with other vehicles and their surroundings (e.g. infrastructure, pedestrians/cyclists), enhancing safety and mobility. CVs can provide useful information to neighbouring vehicles and infrastructure to help make safer and more informed decisions. Connectivity is achieved through vehicular communication technologies, including Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) and cellular communications. Cellular connections, commonly referred to as Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X), may use either 4G LTE (Fourth Generation Wireless Long -Term Evolution) or next generation 5G (Fifth Generation Wireless) networks.

Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) are equipped with onboard equipment (e.g. cameras, LiDAR, radar) to sense and monitor the surrounding environment. An AV combines data and intelligence from its equipment to automate various aspects of the dynamic driving task and navigate through the road network. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has categorized AVs into six levels of automation ranging from no automation (Level 0) to fully autonomous (Level 5).

As CV and AV technologies are complementary, it is most likely that combined C/AVs will be much more prominent in the market in the future than separate CV and AV offerings.

What are the levels of vehicle automation?

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has categorized AVs into six levels of automation:

A human driver is required for all aspects of the dynamic driving task. Vehicles may have assistive technology providing warnings to the driver but cannot sustain vehicle control.

A human driver performs most of the driving operation, with the automated system assisting with minor operations of the dynamic driving task. For example, with lane keeping assistance, the driver controls the speed, while the automated system self-corrects steering toward the centre of the lane. Another example is Adaptive Cruise Control where the automated system controls the speed, while the driver controls steering. Level 1 automation is included in many vehicles available on the market.

An automated driving system can be in control of the dynamic driving task, including steering, acceleration and braking. However, the driver must always remain engaged in the driving task and monitor the environment. Examples of Level 2 automation available to the public include Tesla Autopilot, General Motors (GM) Super Cruise, Mercedes-Benz DistronicPilot, and Nissan ProPilot.

An automated driving system is in full control of the dynamic driving task, including steering, acceleration and braking. The vehicle is able to scan its environment, react accordingly, recognize its limitations, and request intervention by a human driver. The human driver should be prepared to intervene if needed. There are currently no vehicles with Level 3 (or above) automation available for purchase in Ontario.

An automated driving system is able to perform the whole dynamic driving task, including steering, acceleration and braking within a defined environment, even if a human driver does not respond to a request to intervene. The vehicle can come to a safe stop if it operates beyond the boundaries of its safe operating conditions. The human driver does not need to monitor the driving environment or be available to intervene with the driving task.

An automated driving system performs the whole dynamic driving task independently and regardless of conditions, without the need for a human driver to be present. The vehicle is truly a self-driving entity and can decide to abort a trip and come to a full stop.

How do C/AVs work?

For their operation, C/AVs depend on key enabling technologies:

Communications enable connectivity and are key to C/AV operations, providing the ability for a vehicle to communicate with other vehicles and its surroundings. Critical communication protocols and network technologies include Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC), and Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X).

Sensing Technologies are key enablers to AV operations, allowing vehicles to understand their surrounding environment. Relevant technologies include cameras and range sensors such as radars, LiDARs (Light Detection and Ranging) and ultrasonic sensors.

Advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), including machine learning (ML), are key enabling technologies and techniques at the core of many parts of C/AV systems. They are responsible for analyzing sensor data, visualizing the surrounding environment, predicting behaviours and guiding vehicle movements.

Advanced analytics refer to a wide range of analytic tools and techniques, and cover a wide range of analytics, including descriptive, diagnostic, predictive and prescriptive.

AI is a subset of advanced analytics that simulates human intelligence and aims to replicate the ability of humans to analyze data, draw conclusions and interact with humans in a human-like way.

ML is a category of AI, where the system is able to automatically learn, improve and optimize through experience. By being able to learn and adapt on its own, ML allows predictions to be made at a scale and speed not possible for human analysts to achieve.

With innovations in vehicular communications and sensing technologies, as well as AI and data analytics, embedded software is a critical enabler to the successful development of C/AVs. In vehicles, the embedded software is rugged in nature and written for the specific hardware of the vehicle, and is used for a variety of purposes, such as safety management, engine control, networking, and infotainment.

What are regulations on C/AVs in Ontario?

Ontario was the first Canadian jurisdiction to regulate testing of automated vehicles on public roads, and through Ontario Regulation 306/15: Pilot Project – Automated Vehicles, Ontario has established an environment of regulatory openness that is globally competitive. The regulation supports private sector AV driving pilots and testing, and provides an attractive region for industry and academia C/AV-related pursuits by facilitating operational testing of new technologies and solutions.

The Cooperative Truck Platooning Pilot Program leverages Ontario’s openness for AV testing and provides direction for vehicular communication testing for truck platoon pilots on specific stretches of provincial highways. Similar testing is ongoing in other countries, such as the U.S., the Netherlands, Singapore and Sweden.

Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and a number of large municipalities have begun developing strategies and plans to prepare for greater adoption of C/AVs.

Are C/AVs safe?

Safety is a paramount driving force for connectivity and automation, particularly given the fact that the vast majority of the serious crashes are due to human error. C/AVs have the potential to reduce injuries and save lives. CVs can communicate and share information with neighbouring vehicles and infrastructure to help make safer and more informed decisions. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that automated driving can reduce traffic fatalities by 94% by eliminating the root cause of road collisions: human error.

How will mobility be impacted by C/AVs?

C/AVs can increase the efficiency of mobility by decreasing traffic congestion and can deliver economic benefits by increasing productivity and providing new avenues for mobility options. Similar to how laptops and mobile phones have augmented human capabilities, C/AVs strive to create a more enabled, convenient and integrated mobility experience.

What are the benefits of C/AVs?

C/AVs are designed with capabilities and features that have the potential to provide increased safety, satisfaction, comfort and convenience. To reduce the number of road fatalities and augment safety on roads, CVs have been introduced to the automotive market. Through the exchange of safety alerts, CVs can have better awareness of their surroundings, resulting in avoided collisions and fewer fatalities on roads. Furthermore, through the exchange of traffic condition messages, CVs can alleviate congestion and avoid undesirable road events, resulting in better driving experiences and environmental impacts. With their features and in-vehicle resources, CVs have been also attracting remarkable use cases beyond safe and convenient transportation, including mobile sensing, data muling, cloud computing, localization and e-commerce.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that automated driving can reduce traffic fatalities by 94% by eliminating the root cause of road collisions: human error. Automated driving not only ensures higher safety levels on roads, but also promotes comfort and frees up valuable time for commuters to pursue other activities. Automated driving is also poised to reduce congestion and transportation costs and provide more mobility options. Since the use of vehicles is linked to other vital sectors, the level of opportunities and disruption of the adoption of AVs will be much broader. AVs are anticipated to bring transformative opportunities to the health care, media and advertising, urban planning, delivery and auto insurance sectors.

What are electric vehicles (EVs)?

EVs are designed as a cleaner option of transportation with capabilities and features that can help significantly reduce transportation emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. There are two main types of EVs: fully electric and hybrid. They differ in their reliance on solely batteries, or a combination of a battery and an internal combustion engine (ICE).

What are fully electric vehicles?

Fully electric vehicles are also known as all-electric vehicles. These vehicles have no combustion engine and are only powered through electric motors. The electricity comes from a battery for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and a fuel cell for fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

BEVs and FCEVs are zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), which means that they do not generate any harmful tailpipe emissions, compared to the conventional internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs). They are the cleanest and most eco-friendly vehicles we can find on roads.

What are the different types of hybrid electric vehicles?

A hybrid electric vehicle contains both an internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric engine. These middle ground vehicles come in different forms. The most popular form of hybrid vehicle is the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). These vehicles can depend on their on-board battery to cover in-city traveling distances and can also switch to their combustion engine to cover long distances without worrying about electricity re-charge. 

Another form of hybrid electric vehicle is the range-extended electric vehicle, or range extender (REx) for short. These vehicles mostly act as battery electric vehicles (BEVs) with wheels only driven by electric motors. The on-board ICE can be used as a generator to recharge the battery in case a charging power supply is not available. The ICE can never directly drive the wheels, compared to PHEVs. 

A full hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) is another form of hybrid vehicle that can run on a battery, an ICE, or a combination. However, compared to PHEVs and REx, HEV batteries can only be charged by on-board operations, not by plugging into the grid. All electricity for the battery is obtained through regenerative braking and the on-board ICE. 

Where can electric vehicle batteries be charged?

Use of EVs requires installing charging infrastructure whether at home, at work, or in public locations. The search for public charging stations is usually supported by mobile or web apps that display the location of these stations. The most popular app is PlugShare, which shows the locations and details of more than 300,000 charging stations worldwide. Significant innovation and investments are being put into the expansion of the EV charging network in Ontario and worldwide. You can visit Natural Resources Canada to learn about the deployments of EV charging infrastructure to date.

What are the advantages of electric vehicles?

Compared to gasoline vehicles, electric vehicles come with huge benefits to their owners and the environment: 

  • Since electric vehicles (EVs) use electricity instead of fossil fuels, the cost of using them is lower than those of conventional internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs). More savings can be gained when EV users charge their vehicles overnight at off-peak hours. EVs have lower lifetime maintenance costs as well. 
  • Air pollutants and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be greatly reduced, and eventually avoided, through the use of EVs. The greater the proportion of renewables in a country’s electricity generation mix, the more the environmental benefits of EVs are. 
  • EVs can give energy back to the grid, in a type of communication known as vehicle-to-grid (V2G). This V2G concept brings a source of revenue to the owners of these vehicles by selling electricity back to the grid during times of peak demand. V2G can also help stabilize the power grid when its main electricity sources are fluctuating and potentially work as a residential back-up power supply when there is a power outage. 
What is the electric vehicle market status in Canada?

According to Statistics Canada, there were 54,353 new zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) registered in Canada in 2020, accounting for 3.5 percent of new vehicle registration in the country. Out of these 2020 ZEV registrations, 95.4 percent were in Canada’s three largest provinces. Promisingly, according to a 2021 survey by KPMG Canada, the next new vehicle purchase for nearly 70 percent of Canadians will be an EV, of which over 62 percent intend to make their purchase in the next one-to-five years. 

Are there monetary incentives for buying electric vehicles in Canada?

Yes, the Government of Canada and some non-profit organizations have been investing in providing incentives to individuals in the form of subsidies. The Government of Canada, through its Incentives for Zero-Emission Vehicles (iZEV) Program, offers point-of-sale incentives for consumers who buy or lease a new EV. There are two levels of incentives under this program:  

1) Battery-electric, fuel-cell, and longer-range plug-in hybrid vehicles are eligible for up to C$5,000, and 

2) Shorter range plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are eligible for up to C$2,500. 

As an incentive for buyers of used EVs through the Used Electric Vehicle Incentive by the non-profit Plug’n Drive, vehicle buyers in Ontario can qualify for C$1,000 toward the purchase of a used fully electric vehicle. This program is offered by Plug’n Drive in collaboration with Clean Air Partnership and with support from the M. H. Brigham Foundation. Brought by the same initiative and partners, the Scrappage Incentive Program offers C$1,000 when a vehicle owner recycles a gasoline vehicle and replaces it with a used EV. This adds to the Used EV Incentive program, providing up to C$2,000 in incentives combined.