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What would happen if a self-driving car crossed into the United States at the Windsor Detroit Tunnel?

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Invest WindsorEssex unveiled the new simulation of an international border crossing meant to test “connected and autonomous vehicles” (CAVs) at an event with Helena Jaczek, minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario Thursday morning.

The project received $5 million of funding in 2019. After some pandemic delays, their team got the “test track” simulation up and running, with plenty of interest from companies so far.

“What would happen if automated vehicles crossed from Canada to the United States?,” asked Edward Dawson, the senior manager for automobility and innovation with Invest WindsorEssex.

“This environment is now giving us another level to test these different vehicle technologies.”

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Autonomous vehicles rely on outside information about their environments, provided through cameras, sensors and light detection and ranging (known as LIDAR) technology. Dawson said the virtual test track takes into consideration all the factors that make border crossing different from driving down a regular street and gives companies an opportunity to test their software, ultimately helping to create safe vehicles that can drive in all conditions.

Helena Jaczek, Minister of Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, speaks with the media following a tour of the VR Cave at the Invest WindsorEssex Automobility and Innovation Centre, on Thursday, April 21, 2022.
Helena Jaczek, Minister of Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, speaks with the media following a tour of the VR Cave at the Invest WindsorEssex Automobility and Innovation Centre, on Thursday, April 21, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

The simulation, created using LIDAR in the Windsor Detroit Tunnel, includes border checkpoints, traffic (like you might find on a Lions game day, one project engineer noted) and even matches the unique lighting found when cars are driving through the tunnel.

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“We created a state-of-the-art simulation environment to get to safe, accurate and cost-effectively testable technologies, and to be able to quickly make changes as needed. And that’s why we created the simulator,” Dawson said.

Invest Windsor Essex’s Virtual reality Cave is open and geared towards small and medium players working on autonomous vehicle technology, said Akash Charuvila, the engineering lead with Invest Windsor-Essex

“The bigger OEMs have access to the software, the hardware and resources,” Charuvila said. “We really want to have the small- and medium-scale companies to have the technology.”

Jaczek also participated in a roundtable Thursday morning with representatives working on economic development, tourism and education in Windsor and Essex County.

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