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Detroit Auto Show 2016: Expect 'major' driverless car news

Ontario's minister of transportation predicts auto manufacturers and technology companies will make "major announcements" next week about the future of driverless cars during an annual auto show in Detroit.

Ontario becomes first in Canada to allow testing of self-driving vehicles

Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca says it's important for Ontario to be 'at the leading edge' of developing driverless car technology. (CBC)

Ontario's minister of transportation predicts auto manufacturers and technology companies will make "major announcements" next week about the future of driverless cars during an annual auto show in Detroit. 

Steven Del Duca is aiming to position Ontario as Canada's centre for self-driving vehicle technology, with the province now allowing testing of driverless cars as of Jan. 1.

"I think we're going to see more stuff flowing from the Detroit Auto Show in the next couple of days in terms of major announcements around this technology," Del Duca said in an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday.

The North American International Auto Show runs from Jan. 11-24 in Detroit. 

Google is among the companies leading the development of self-driving cars. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Ontario's Ministry of Transportation started, as of Jan.1, accepting applications from companies to test automated vehicles on any street, road or highway in the province. 

Companies want the chance to test self-driving vehicles in a cold climate, Del Duca said. 

"This is technology that is coming on the scene in a pretty fast and furious way," Del Duca told Metro Morning host Matt Galloway.

"We know there's tons of excitement and interest, we know there is a lot of buzz out there in the industry." He said he expects the first road tests will happen "over the next number of months." 

The provincial government says the pilot project will allow the nearly 100 companies and institutions already involved in the automated vehicle industry in Ontario to conduct research and development in the province rather than elsewhere.

No applications have been submitted yet. "But we do anticipate applications to come in," Del Duca's spokesperson, Patrick Searle, said in an email. 

'Significant' potential for disrupting economy 

Del Duca said the technology has "wonderful future potential" to improve traffic flow and reduce accidents. But he admitted it could have negative effects, such as putting people who drive for a living out of work. 

"The potential for disruption in the economy is fairly significant over the long term," he said.

Mercedes-Benz unveiled its autonomous concept car F 015 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2015. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

Del Duca said it was important for Ontario to be "at the leading edge" of developing driverless car technology because of the auto sector's role in the province's economy. 

"We wanted to be in a position to take advantage of the potential job creation that might flow as a result of this technology in years to come," he said. 

Steven Waslander, the director of the Waterloo Autonomous Vehicles Laboratory, is applauding the province's move to allow testing. 

"We have a large manufacturing base here working in the automotive industry," Waslander said Monday in an interview on Metro Morning. "And to keep that going and get the next generation of vehicles in place, we need this kind of forward-looking legislation."

"Given sufficient resources and given enough engineering talent, you can build a self-driving car," said Waslander, also an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Waterloo. 

"What we now need to prove is that it's safe at the scale that we drive cars regularly, and that it's affordable."