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Ontario is the first Canadian province to allow autonomous vehicle testing

Icy roads ahead

Companies like Mercedes, Google, and Tesla will soon have a new place to test their self-driving technology: Canada. Ontario will allow the autonomous vehicle testing on its public roads starting January 1st, 2016, the province's transportation minister Steven Del Duca announced yesterday.

The new pilot program comes with restrictions — some loose, some not. Self-driving cars will be allowed on any public road at any time of day, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Participants are limited to vehicle manufacturers, technology companies, academic or research institutions, or companies that have made parts specifically for automated vehicles. Furthermore, the vehicles have to have a licensed human behind the wheel, and the companies need at least $5 million in liability insurance.

Companies will now have more space to test in tougher weather

If you're working on autonomous vehicles, you can currently test them in just a few places in the United States, like Flordia, California, Michigan, Tennessee, and Nevada. (Google is also now testing them in Texas, after coordinating with the state's Department of Transportation.) But Michigan is the only cold-weather state that companies can test in, and a big part of advancing autonomous vehicle technology is studying how the cars operate in all kinds of weather. Ontario gives these companies another option for subjecting self-driving cars to things like heavy snow, high winds, sub-zero temperatures, and of course, an entirely new infrastructure.

There's no telling which major company's self-driving car will be first to hit the Canadian roads, but one (smaller) autonomous vehicle has already clocked some miles. Two students at the University of Waterloo's Waterloo Autonomous Vehicles Laboratory (WAVELab) created a self-driving golf cart earlier this year, and it successfully looped the university's campus in August.