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In the heart of the nation’s capital, innovation, cutting-edge technology and top talent are driving the autonomous vehicle (AV) revolution. Known as driverless or self-driving cars, and capable of sensing their environment and navigating without human input, AVs are unleashing a world of opportunity. And Ottawa is an epicentre of AV innovation.

Over the last year, Blackberry QNX launched their AV Innovation Centre to advance technology innovation for connected and autonomous vehicles. Ford announced the establishment of a new $338-million research and engineering centre. It is the first of the Big Three U.S. automotive manufacturers to set up shop in the region. The municipality recently hosted the first-in-Canada live demonstration of an AV on public streets interacting with live city infrastructure. And building on groundbreaking AV projects in Germany and the U.S., global telecom technology and infrastructure leader Nokia is preparing to bring expertise and connectivity to local AV test tracks. Welcome to Ottawa, Canada’s AV capital.

The region is home to more than 70 SMEs, multinational companies, post-secondary institutions and other organizations that are contributing a wealth of expertise, technology and intelligence to AVs of the future. These innovators span every corner of the city, and are anchored by a thriving technology cluster in Kanata North in Ottawa’s west end. They bring an important message to the world: Ottawa is open for AV business. The global autonomous vehicles market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 39.6 per cent from 2017 to 2027, reaching $126.8 billion by 2027. Ottawa is differentiated as a key player in this space.

Powered by Blackberry QNX technology, the self-driving car went for a spin around Kanata Tech Park.

What makes the city unique? Its ability to harness the true power of AVs, and put associated capabilities and emerging data to work for the benefit of drivers, citizens and the cities in which they live. This demands reliable, robust and pervasive LTE and 5G networks (fifth generation wireless capabilities), and secure communications technologies and applications.

Ottawa is a proven global leader in these technologies, with more than 250 communications companies that employ 21,000 people. Building on decades of information and communications technology leadership, Ottawa firms are developing novel AV technologies by leveraging expertise and experience in:

• Research

• Software, data and analytics

• Design, engineering and manufacturing

• Safety and security

• Connectivity — GPS, LTE, 5G

• Autonomous solutions

• Sensors and IoT solutions

• Wireless and mobile technologies

Building on these and many other capabilities, Ottawa emerged as the first Canadian municipality to launch an AV test track that enables testing of licensed AVs on city streets. It was also the first city to conduct a live demonstration of an AV communicating with live city infrastructure in Canada. These investments underscore the region’s commitment to becoming an even smarter city — one that connects people, infrastructure and technology to open up a world of new possibilities and benefits for companies and citizens alike.

Hundreds of spectators gathered with Blackberry QNX, the City of Ottawa, Invest Ottawa and the Kanata North Business Association to witness this historic Canadian milestone in AV technology. 

The test track includes a few blocks and a main intersection in Kanata North, the largest tech park in the country. It’s a collaborative effort led by BlackBerry QNX, the City of Ottawa, Invest Ottawa and the Kanata North Business Association, and other industry leaders such as Nokia, NovAtel, LuxCOM and Codha Wireless.

Working together with this team, the City of Ottawa is adopting technology that allows vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. This includes dedicated short-range communications technology that lets cars and stoplights communicate with each other. Cars know whether they’re at a red or green light by talking to stoplights via high-speed, Wi-Fi bay stations located on nearby rooftops.

This infrastructure allows companies to test, validate and demonstrate proof-of-concept AV technology. Although BlackBerry QNX will be the first company to use this test bed, any firm with the proper licence and regulatory approval can test AVs on this track. It further strengthens Ottawa’s AV capabilities, creating new opportunities for R&D and business collaboration, technology development, commercialization and global sales.

This exciting AV development also further positions Ontario as a leader in this field. In the 2017 budget, the Government of Ontario announced $80 million in spending for AV research, and the creation of an Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network that will capitalize on the economic potential of AVs, and help the province’s transportation systems and infrastructure adapt to AV technology. The AV test bed launched in Ottawa directly supports this objective, and creates new infrastructure that promises to attract new talent, business and opportunities that increase the competitiveness of the region and the province.

Industry leadership is a key strength of Canada’s AV capital. Headquartered in Ottawa, Blackberry QNX is at the forefront of the AV technology revolution with its software installed in more than 60 million cars around the world. The firm holds one of three Ontario licences to test AVs on public roads. It is also contributing to the operating system that powers the traffic management system in the AV test track.

QNX is just one of more than 70 companies across the region that is capitalizing on Ottawa’s technology development veterans, incoming international innovators and the next generation of AV talent being produced by post-secondary institutions in the nation’s capital.

Just a block away, Nokia, one of Ottawa’s largest technology employers, houses 2,300 of its 100,000 employees at its R&D-intensive campus in Kanata. Nokia’s Ottawa-based team includes some of the world’s most seasoned telecom experts. These highly skilled people contribute to a vast global network that includes the world-renowned Bell Labs in New Jersey, where pioneering research into telecom technology has earned eight Nobel Prizes. The company brings this collective experience to bear on collaboration with Ottawa universities and colleges, contributing to the telecom elements of curricula, and recruiting many local co-op students and graduates.

Ottawa’s AV talent is a key differentiator for the nation’s capital. Coupled with Ottawa’s extensive capabilities in wireless, advanced networking, software, hardware, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and cybersecurity, it is a powerful combination and business opportunity. It will ensure the city is a key driver of the innovation economy for decades to come.

Invest Ottawa, lead economic development agency, and the Kanata North Business Association, which represents more than 500 companies in the Kanata North Tech Park, are proud to help fuel the growth and success of Ottawa entrepreneurs and firms, and a strong regional economy. As appeared in the Financial Post and the Calgary Herald.

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