Driverless shuttle a hit at the Zoo, TELUS Spark

A man and his son prepare to board the ELA shuttle in the parking lot of the Calgary Zoo on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Photo by Khaleel Haji/The Press)

TELUS Spark centre and the Calgary Zoo have started bridging the walkways and roads between their two facilities with an innovative and developing mode of futuristic transportation.

The ELA (electric autonomous) shuttle is an entirely self-driven shuttle bus that can fit roughly 12 people within its cabin.

The shuttle, which uses mainly sensors and environmental feedback systems, transports visitors between the zoo and TELUS Spark Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., for those visiting both facilities.

Manufactured by the leading autonomous vehicle technology company EasyMile, the shuttle takes anywhere from 3 ½ to four minutes to cover a gravel road connecting the zoo and Spark.

The shuttle, which looks like an oversized smart car, can cruise at 45 km/h but is programmed not to exceed 12 km/h for commercial use.

“It seems very efficient” says Margaret Louise, who visits the Spark centre often with her grandchildren. “It’s quiet too.”

As for the layout, the bus has three wooden seats on each side facing inwards, with room in the middle for around six more people.

Whilst slightly cramped at full capacity, the vehicle offers a smooth ride.

The shuttle seems ideal for seniors, children and those who have compromised mobility.

“This is my son’s first ride on the ELA,” Micheal Chan, a father of a 4-year-old boy, said in an interview.

“He doesn’t really know the difference between this and a regular bus, but we thought we’d try it out anyway.”

The project, which has been spearheaded by Pacific Western, operated until the end of September.

Under Alberta legislation, a human operator must be with the shuttle at all times. But in France where the ELA shuttle originates, it’s a different story.

“In France these vehicles are not required to have an attendee whilst the shuttle is moving. It is completely automated,” says ELA worker Daniel Faust.

The shuttle can be controlled manually, in case of emergency, using what looks like a large yellow RC car controller. It also has fail-safe mechanisms to stop the vehicle if a collision occurs.

The vehicle is battery operated, making the ELA shuttle very environmentally friendly.

Because of this, cities  have been vying with one another to test out the technology within their infrastructure.

The U of C is also invested in the project with multiple departments aiding in the funding.

“It seems like a very-forwarding thinking move from the city to start introducing automated vehicles, even in a small-scale environment like this,” says Shaleza Lakha, a sociology student at Mount Royal University.

“It’s an exciting time for the city.”


The TELUS Spark Centre, one of the destinations that the ELA shuttle arrives at from the Calgary Zoo in Calgary on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Photo by Khaleel Haji/The Press)
About Khaleel Haji 2 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Khaleel Haji is working as a writer for The Press during the 2018-19 academic year.