The future of connected autonomous vehicles in Ottawa is fast-approaching.

Thursday, Carleton University students in the Information Technology program (BIT) tested self-driving vehicles against cyber-attacks and potential threats.

“I think the biggest threat is coming from technology and human beings” said Richard Yu, professor in the School of Information Technology, who in 2017 secured funding from the Canadian Safety and Security Program for research on securing new connected and autonomous vehicles.

Controlled by systems and special communication signals set up throughout the city, several autonomous vehicles were tested through a pilot project on a 6-kilometre stretch on West Hunt Club featuring 12 traffic signals designed to collect data from the connected vehicles.

“Soon enough, stop signs, four-ways, traffic lights even, yield signs, we'll be able to stop at those,” said Fayez Chedid, a programmer with the project.

“Before we do that we're safety testing them so we're going to hack them, we're going to do threat analysis and we're going to make sure they're actually safe to go out and do those projects,” said Kelly Daize, director of Invest Ottawa’s Autonomous Vehicle Program.

Thursday’s test involved three runs using a connected autonomous vehicle, a Toyota RAV 4, its driver with his hands off the wheel and foot off the brake. A programmer sat in the passenger seat; his computer communicating with another device which relayed navigation instructions and information. The students demonstrated a scenario involving the vehicle being hacked; causing it to drive past a stop sign it had been programmed to stop in front of. The technology, they hope will provide opportunities to drivers who otherwise cannot drive.

“People who may not be able to drive for whatever medical reason, now they have the chance to and the freedom to drive around,” said Chedid.

On the road toward self-driving cars, students remain hopeful their project is another green light