A large asphalt pad has been laid down this week as part of Renesas Electronics America’s construction of an autonomous vehicle test track on Lorne Avenue at Romeo Street. (Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald)
With paving done and a few lines painted, Renesas Electronics America’s autonomous vehicle (AV) test track at Romeo Street and Lorne Avenue is nearing completion.
After testing AVs last fall in the Festival Theatre parking lot, Renesas approached the city about finding a suitable location to build a larger track. Upon reviewing several potential sites with the company, city council voted at a special meeting of council on June 1 to sign a three-year lease agreement with Renesas allowing it to use a portion of city-owned property at 3165 Perth Line 33 for AV testing.
“I didn’t want to be limited to November, December, January and February. The lot at the Festival was not going to be adequate, so we made a new one. Now we’ve got a big, huge space out there in that field,” said John Buszek, Renesas’ senior manager of ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) and autonomous driving systems.
While Buszek said any open field would have sufficed for the test track, he appreciated the City of Stratford’s willingness and enthusiasm to help Renesas find the best location for AV testing. Buszek said the site at Lorne Avenue and Romeo Street was the best option among the locations they looked at because the property is easily serviceable for both WiFi and electricity, and the land lends itself well to the testing of AVs without too much concern over any major environmental issues such as flooding.
At this point in the track’s construction, asphalt has been laid and a few lines have been painted on it to allow for limited testing of the University of Waterloo’s WATcar before Renesas begins testing its cars, which is expected to begin in a couple of weeks.
Since Renesas manufactures computer chips for autonomous vehicles, the company will be conducting research at its Stratford test track to determine if those computer chips are functioning properly.
“One way you can make sure that the chips are doing what you need, or figure out, if they’re not doing something, what it is that they should be doing, is by actually putting them in a car and make the car drive autonomously. So, we certainly use this area in Stratford to help us do that,” Buszek said.
The test track, he continued, is also close to the University of Waterloo’s Stratford campus. As many of the electronic and software components of Renesas’ AV were designed by University of Waterloo engineering students, much of the research conducted by the company is done so collaboratively with the school’s WATcar program.
Eventually, Buszek said Renesas will build a small garage at the test track to house the AV being tested. Track materials such as concrete barriers will also be brought in, more lines will be painted and stoplights will be installed, all with the goal of having the capability to test an AV in as many everyday-traffic scenarios as possible.
“It’s always great to have a controlled space where you can test a lot of things… and make everything the way you want it to be. There are a lot of typical scenarios in autonomous driving that we can address on this little controlled space where we can make the environment what we want it to be,” Buszek said.
While the direction of Renesas’ AV research will be in constant flux based on the results of the company’s testing, Buszek said he and his team will simulate situations such as four-way intersections, having the AV travelling at different speeds, various parking maneuvers, and many other city driving scenarios any human driver might experience.
Although Renesas has signed a three-year land lease agreement with Stratford, Buszek said the company has every intention to renew that agreement if everything goes as planned.
According to Ed Dujlovic, Stratford’s director of infrastructure and development services, Renesas’ test track will not interfere with the city’s snow dump site, which is located on the same property.