Visitors to two of the city’s premier attractions will be able to experience a new mode of transportation for the first time in Western Canada.

Throughout the month of September, members of the public will be able to travel on an Electric Autonomous or ELA vehicle.

The 100 percent electric bus carries 12 passengers and is operated by Pacific Western Transportation, but there won’t be a driver on the route that travels between the Calgary Zoo and TELUS Spark.

The vehicle is guided by a battery of sensors and a highly accurate GPS device. The vehicle won’t exceed 12 km/h and will only operate on the one kilometre long service road between the two attractions.

“It understands what’s normally there and when there’s something that’s not normally there, it looks for that and it figures if the trajectory of that item, vehicle, car, bicycle or whatever is going to interact with it and if it’s going to, it will avoid it,” said Dan Finley, vice president of business development at PWT.

Finley says the vehicle has been extensively programmed to work in the specific area that it’s been set up in, so it can’t be picked up and placed anywhere without that work being done.

It will be running under a pilot project to test the long-term feasibility of autonomous technology in the City of Calgary.

Calgary-Centre MP Kent Hehr says the vehicle reflects the vision the Government of Canada has to expand accessible transportation options for Canadians.

“We're envisioning a future where we need to invest in people today and in technology today to get us ready for a future transportation grid and system that allows for automation, artificial intelligence and incorporating best practices into that new brave world you're going to see."

Throughout the pilot, research will be conducted by the faculties of Science and the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary. Passengers will also be able to provide on-site feedback.

"Autonomous vehicles and understanding smart cities is a geophysical problem, so I have repurposed an oilfield geophysical instrument to track everything going on at the surface in cities," says Rob Ferguson, a geophysicist with the University of Calgary.

He says that and his research team realize that fiber optic grids that the ELA runs on is on the rise all over the world and tracking vehicles with current technology is pretty easy, but they want to see if pedestrians in the vicinity of those vehicles can be tracked too.

"Can we see a pedestrian's signature in the fiber when it's close to a vehicle and the environment is very noisy? This autonomous test is a perfect test bed for us."

ELA is available free of charge from September 8 to 30. Rides can be booked online.

Following the Calgary pilot, the system will be moved to Edmonton for further testing in the Alberta climate.

“We’re looking forward to the cold weather and snow testing that we’re going to be doing with the vehicle. We think that Alberta is good place to do the testing,” Finley says.

The Edmonton pilot project will last until December.