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B.C. courier company secretly tests driverless vehicle in Vancouver


John Coupar of Novex Delivery Solutions “drives” a Tesla Model 3 with self-driving technology in Vancouver on Thursday.


Arlen Redekop / PNG

A B.C. courier company has been secretly testing driverless cars on the roads of Metro Vancouver.

Richmond-based Novex Delivery Solutions announced Wednesday that they have been quietly experimenting with a Tesla Model 3, purchased last year by the company with an eye towards deploying the autonomous vehicle for its same-day deliveries in the future, as well as continuing to reduce its environmental impact.

“Autonomous cars are the future, and we want to make sure when they’re here, we are at the forefront of this technology,” said Novex president John Coupar. “We’re gathering data every day from our Tesla Model 3 to learn everything we can about how these vehicles can perform safe, emission-free, faster delivery service to our customers.”

Novex’s testing, which included a three-week span where the vehicle was used for deliveries, has shown that there is still a ways to go before the courier company can go fully driverless in urban areas. A human driver inside the car was poised to take over if the AI ran into trouble, as it did often. While the Tesla’s autonomous feature was able to manage on its own nearly half the time in less condensed areas, it struggled in downtown Vancouver, and not just in finding a parking spot.


Brett Surgenor (left) and John Coupar of Novex Delivery Solutions, with a Tesla Model 3 self-driving car in Vancouver, BC, Mar. 14, 2019.

Arlen Redekop /

PNG

“Due to the car’s inability to recognize certain signs, to make right or left turns without direction, or make adjustments for construction, the autonomous feature engaged 45 per cent of the time in areas like Richmond, Surrey and Delta,” said spokesman Brett Surgenor. “In condensed areas such as downtown Vancouver, or where there are many obstacles, businesses or residents, that number dropped to five per cent.”

According to Coupar, Novex faces other “practical obstacles” as well, such as how, exactly, an autonomous car would deliver a couriered package to a customer’s front door.

“Customer service is our No. 1 priority, and we are testing how we can keep providing our customers with the high-level courier services they have come to expect, but with a new autonomous vehicle option,” said Coupar. “For example, it was often impractical for the customer to pick up their parcel from the vehicle since it was too bulky or heavy to move without a dolly.

“To solve this, we’re looking at a ‘white glove’ service, where we can liaise directly with a front desk or concierge of a multi-purpose building who could meet the vehicle out front.”

hmooney@postmedia.com


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