Looking Forward: Autonomous Grocery Deliveries, and Snow Plow Trackers

We take a look at what's happening near the end of the year and look forward to 2021.

Alex Kelly
by Alex Kelly
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Welcome back to the Dispatch, Onlia's monthly dive into the intersection of transportation, tech, and everything else you need to know about safety. Hosted by Alex Kelly, Onlia's road safety expert, we’re taking a look at how 2020 unfolded in the world of transportation, as well as some Canadian self-driving developments, well-timed snow plow tracking, and incredibly vintage licence plate tags.

Year in review 

2020 was the start of a new decade, and with that, a lot of new energy – while we had our predictions for the year, things took a turn with news of COVID-19. While all sectors experienced the repercussions, the transportation industry experienced its challenges as well. The daily movement of people and goods changed overnight, with some modes surging (like cycling) while others struggled (like public transit).

As we all worked to #FlattenTheCurve and learned how to socially distance, people lost some of the carefree ways we moved, worked, and socialized. Transportation modes became hubs for COVID-19 transmission, while the convenience of rideshare became a terrifying new vector for the virus. Commuting was no longer a carefree means to an end, but a risky maneuver saved only for the most essential trips.

There was no time to mourn the loss of our pre-pandemic lives, as innovations sparked new endeavours worldwide. Transportation became about bringing things into the home, rather than going out to explore. Rideshare companies doubled down on their delivery services, offering food, groceries, and essential items. Cars were a critical link to drive-thru virus testing sites, while autonomous vehicle technology was re-applied to driverless shuttles carrying COVID-19 test samples. Maps became more than a navigation aide, offering snapshots of how our movements changed throughout the pandemic, and road trips experienced a real resurgence, as people looked for any way to get out of the house.

People became crafty as well, claiming COVID-19 as a way to slip out of traffic tickets. Others looked to circumvent border closures, charting courses with trucking companies and helicopters to head down south for the winter. While everything stayed in place on Earth, things got moving in space – the first crewed SpaceX launch took off, a proud moment for founder Elon Musk.

It remains to be seen what will endure in the post-pandemic world – something we look forward to covering in the next issue of the Dispatch. If we've learned anything from 2020, it’s to be flexible and adapt. We're making our predictions in pencil this time around.

Government: Decoded

In a seemingly counterintuitive move, Toronto is walking back some of its latest bike lanes. ActiveTO, a response to COVID-19 lockdowns, allowed for expedited installation of temporary bike lanes. Advocates were hopeful that these would become permanent, supporting the rise of cycling popularity. However, lanes along Brimley Road in Scarborough will be removed, returning the corridor to its original car-centric layout. City staff acknowledged that the temporary set up impeded traffic flow, something that may have been resolved with better initial community consultations – a costly oversight.

Just in time for the winter season, Ontario has announced an upgrade to its 511 app. Designed to help motorists with on-board traffic cameras and up to date notifications of snow-covered roads, the latest iteration of 511 features a "track my snowplow" function. This time-stamped feature can make quite the difference for commuters. So Canadian.

The first COVID-19 vaccines were administered this month, and they’re the first of many. Strategic teams are trying to figure out how to shuttle millions of doses to communities across Canada, and national transportation logistics are critical. The vaccine must be kept at sub-arctic temperatures; some are even likening it to the delivery of ice cream.

Newsworthy

Last month we reported on Walmart's moves to deliver groceries via autonomous vehicles (AVs). It appears grocery innovation is cropping up on Canadian soil as well, with a recent announcement that Loblaws will start to use self-driving cars to deliver groceries. January 2021 will see five autonomous trucks testing out the Toronto service, with human co-pilots along for the 10-month pilot program. 

AVs aren't the only new delivery option on the streets – FedEx has launched a North American e-bike delivery right in Toronto, featuring delivery drivers on electric cargo bikes. Cycling through neighbourhoods since July, FedEx is gearing up service for winter months, anticipating heavier delivery loads as online shopping increases. 

Winter always presents hazards to driving, and despite snow tires, it still requires driver attentiveness behind the wheel. Safety-first manufacturer Volvo has teamed up with artificial intelligence traffic management software provider, Waycare, to create real-time notifications of inclement conditions. The collaboration will share anonymized data from Volvo vehicles with Waycare, helping cities understand the location of hazardous road conditions. In turn, alerts will be shared through public channels, such as local Twitter accounts and the Waze trip-planning app. Safety for all – our favourite kind.

Transportation fails

The year is coming to a close, so consider this a reminder to renew essential documents, like your license plate stickers. A Toronto-area man was recently pulled over with plate tags that had expired in 1989. Con you say vintage? While COVID-19 allowed for a grace period on renewals, this driver's deadline has long come and gone. 

Other drivers are going, going, gone, fast – a 21-year-old driver was clocked going 228 km/hr in Mississauga on the 403 highway. Ontario Provincial Police handed out a seven-day license suspension and impounded the car for a week. This latest speedster is an indication that street racing and stunt driving show little sign of slowing down.

Down the road

2020 was a wild year, and like many others, we are looking ahead to 2021 and hoping for a more joyful new year. With a vaccine on the move, here’s hoping we’ll get back to normal – whatever that looks like – soon.

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