After passing No. 3 Road and Granville Avenue, the driver let go of the wheel and let the car drive itself. The car stayed in the middle of the lane, at a speed of 50 kilometers per hour and kept a distance from the cars in front. It stopped when the car in front did.
This is what happened on the road in Richmond earlier this month, when Richmond’s courier company Novex Delivery Solutions did a “secret” road testing of a newly-purchased autonomous fleet vehicle - the Tesla Model 3.
“We hear a lot around self-driving vehicles... We try to figure out what the future looks like. That’s why we decided to do some simulated deliveries and try to figure out how it might be different in the future,” said John Coupar, president of Novex Delivery Solutions.
When put on automatic mode, the Tesla will drive itself at a pre-set speed. A screen shows the environment around the car, including pedestrians, bikers and other cars.
Data is collected from sensors and cameras installed on the surface of the car and the system makes sure the car keeps a distance from those on the road and stays in the middle of the lane.
Coupar explained that the tested model is semi-automatic and still requires drivers behind the wheel to pay attention all the time to make sure not to put the driver or the public at risk.
“For example, the car will stop if the car in front stops or there are pedestrians crossing, but it cannot recognize traffic lights; it can follow a windy road but it [the car] cannot make turns at intersections,” said Coupar.
Although things are still at a very early stage, Coupar and the company believe that in the future driverless cars can be used widely in the delivery industry and that it’s never too early to learn about the technology to stay ahead of the game.
“One of the things we thought about was parking. Parking is generally a big issue, but if you have a self-driving vehicle in the future, the vehicle can circle itself while the driver does the delivery - we wouldn’t have to spend time looking for a parking spot,” he said.
“The other issue is that in the future maybe the vehicle would be completely autonomous. That would free up the driver to be calling ahead, letting people know a delivery was coming, and maybe sorting packages; all kinds of things.”
As driverless delivery vehicles are still far away, Novex Delivery Solutions, a carrier dedicated to using low-emission vehicles, is currently focusing on adding zero emission electric vehicles to its fleet.
“A zero emission fleet is the goal,” said Coupar, adding the company has six electric cars including the Tesla Model 3.
“We have a fleet of about 100 vehicles across the Lower Mainland. Right now they are primarily using hybrid fuel sources, so fully electric is the next step...but we do need more charging stations in the city.”