Self-driving vehicles aren’t yet ready for Toronto winters, but WinTOR is on its way

autoronto self driving car in winter

[aUToronto’s award-winning self-driving car, Zeus, testing out winter driving conditions at Downsview.]


Last week, Tesla unlocked the full self-driving beta program (FSD) in downtown Toronto. This means that Tesla drivers can now test hands-free features in the downtown core, leaving some city experts worried that our infrastructure and regulations aren’t yet ready for self-driving vehicles.

University of Toronto Robotics Institute Professor Steven Waslander, a world leading expert on 3D object detection for self-driving vehicles, was asked by CBC’s Metro Morning to weigh in with his expert opinion. 

I’m worried about the lack of government oversight and regulatory uncertainty here, which allowed Tesla to unilaterally open dense urban areas to their test program,” says Waslander. “The program relies on Tesla’s customers acting as safety drivers, but very little, if any, training is provided. Drivers must uncover the limits of the software on their own, and remain vigilant to ensure public safety.”

“The timing is especially odd as winter is coming and Teslas are notoriously bad in snow,” says Waslander. “A recent video from Nov 9 in Edmonton showed the car sliding out at every stop sign. Toronto’s combination of dense urban traffic, pedestrians, and snow is going to be very challenging for Tesla’s driving program.”

Winter driving hasn’t yet received as much attention by AV developers as it deserves. 

“Snowy conditions limit an autonomous vehicle’s ability to perceive and understand its environment, and icy road surfaces are a big challenge for vehicle control,” says Waslander. 

“We have recently launched a large-scale research initiative aimed at addressing the challenges of autonomous driving in winter. I’m optimistic that self-driving abilities are improving immensely, however, it is important that regulators keep up, and can separate the genuine advances from the dangerous experiments.” 

Waslander and other faculty from UofT Robotics are leading a $12M research collaboration called WinTOR, which aims to transform Toronto into a global hub for all-weather self-driving R&D and ensure that Canadians can benefit from autonomous vehicle technology instead of being left behind.