Surface Robots: Final Report - Institute on Governance

Surface Robots: Final Report

By Ezra Miller, Jeff Kinder and Rhonda Moore


Surface robots are small vehicles that operate with some degree of autonomy on sidewalks in uncontrolled settings. They are a relatively new area of technology and application of artificial intelligence that are known by many names, including Micro Utility Devices (MUDs) and autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs).

In recent months, surface robots have made appearances on city streets in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. These newcomers to Canadian sidewalks vary in size, speed, purpose, and functionality. Their presence has raised questions, concerns, and hopes. 

In November 2021, Transport Canada engaged the IOG to review the state of the technology, their use in Canada, and the related implications and impacts of this new technology. This report is the product of an environmental scan, a series of one-on-one interviews, and two engagement exercises; one with members of the accessibility community and one with members of the nascent SR community including government representatives at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. The report presents findings in four categories: technology and its applications, economic considerations, social implications, and standards and regulations. The report also presents recommendations to address concerns and guide the next stages of development.

The study demonstrates that this new technology may offer social, economic, and environmental benefits to members of our community, eventually. However, at present, the technology is immature, the markets are undeveloped, and social concerns are yet to be addressed through further consultation, technology protocols, and standards and regulations. 


Along with our partners at Global Advantage, we’ll be holding an event to discuss these research findings. The presenters will share project findings in the areas of the technology and its applications; the surface robotics industry ecosystem and economics; social impacts, public acceptance, and privacy; and standards and regulations. The presenters will also share some thoughts on recommended next steps.

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