Take a look at Canada's first autonomous RV

Two of the three autonomous vehicles to be tested on Ontario roads are Lincoln sedans. The third is a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, a deluxe caravan priced at $90,000.

RV costs $100,000 to retrofit, make autonomous

This Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van, has been outfitted with all the technology it needs to drive on its own. That includes GPS, laser-based radar monitors and a suite of internal touchscreens. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Of the three autonomous vehicles to be tested on Ontario roads over the next decade, two are Lincoln sedans. 

The third is a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, a deluxe caravan priced at $90,000 – and that's before it's tricked out with high-tech automation gadgets.

"Our vehicles are really all about the journey," said Joel Adams, director of engineering for Erwin Hymer Group North America. 

"We think it's the ideal platform for an autonomous vehicle. Google has little bumper cars that just hold one or two people in them, we think it's going to be a much more social environment," suggested Adams. "Where you can take along your entire family – not in five bumper cars, but in one Erwin Hymer Group RV."

From the outside, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van looks like any other caravan in its class. The only remarkable difference is this sensor, mounted just above where the license plate would go. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Unlike other autonomous vehicles, including the Lincoln sedan being tested by University of Waterloo's Centre for Automotive Research, the van's automation technology is almost all internal.

There's a small cylindrical sensor above where the licence plate would go, but beyond that, it's unremarkable from the outside. 

"It's pretty discreet," said Adams. We don't want a big sign that says 'autonomous vehicle,' and people are going to jump out in front of it and try and test the systems. We want to test them just in normal traffic, in normal conditions."

And that's exactly the point, said Pearl Sullivan, dean of the University of Waterloo's faculty of engineering.

"The ability to operate the vehicle on any public roadway in the province, in all types of weather conditions provides a significant advantage," said Sullivan of her team's Lincoln MKZ on Monday.

The Sprinter Van, or the Roadtrek E-trek as it's named by the Erwin Hymer Group, is based on the Mercedes-Benz chassis and outfitted for sale by Erwin Hymer, said Joel Adams (pictured). The vehicles are produced in Kitchener at the company's North American headquarters. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

"We will enhance the onboard processing capacity by adding a powerful artificial intelligence computer to run a complete autonomous driving system."

All that technology comes with a steep price tag. The company's base model vans start at $90,000, and can top $200,000.

Once the GPS, laser-based radar monitors, extra camera sensors on the exterior of the vehicle and a suite of internal touchscreens inside are factored in, that can add another $100,000 to the price.

Adams says he believes that number will go down, once production ramps up.


Jackie Sharkey is a producer for CBC News in Kitchener-Waterloo and an occasional guest host. She has been been based in Kitchener, Ont., since the station was created in 2013, after working for CBC in Kelowna, B.C., Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.