Ford investment brings Ottawa closer to becoming autonomous vehicles hub

The $337.9-million announcement is only the latest in a big year for AV in the capital
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Almost exactly one year ago, we published an article asking the question, “Can Ottawa be an autonomous vehicle hub?”

Today, with Ford’s announcement that it would be investing $337.9 million to build an autonomous vehicles R&D centre in the capital, we took one step closer to answering that question.

The past year has seen significant advancements and new players in Ottawa’s autonomous driving industry.

Apple opened up an office in Kanata, reportedly to advance development on its own top secret autonomous driving project. Further to that end, the company hired former BlackBerry QNX chief executive Dan Dodge to lead the division.

But despite the poached executive, QNX made its own significant strides this past year in asserting itself as a leader in autonomous drive.

For one, the company passed a major milestone: 60 million of its infotainment and telematics systems shipped into vehicles worldwide. It also announced a partnership to test its software in Ford’s vehicles.

In December, parent company BlackBerry announced it would invest $100 million in its QNX division to create an autonomous vehicles innovation centre and add 650 jobs in the region along the way.

Business leaders in the community have launched events and campaigns aimed at generating buzz around the city’s AV industry.

The city’s dabbling in autonomous drive isn’t limited to terrestrial roads. Neptec, a Kanata-based firm that engineers and develops spaceflight technologies, has developed a rover capable of autonomous navigation on the surface of the moon. The company’s website says its Artemis Jr Rover is primed for a lunar exploration later this year.

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The Kanata North Business Association held an Autonomous Vehicles Summit in January to discuss the best ways forward for the city and its industry partners. Techopia Live sat down with KNBIA’s Jenna Sudds, BlackBerry QNX’s Grant Courville and the Canada Autonomous Vehicles Centre of Excellence (CAVCOE)’s Barrie Kirk to talk about what it might look like if Ottawa were a hub for this technology.

Mayor Jim Watson led a crusade to Queen’s Park last month to lobby the provincial government to invest in the capital as a go-to destination for autonomous vehicles. Today’s announcement by Ford accompanied news from the federal and Ontario governments that they would also be spending up to $102.4 million to bolster the automotive company’s initiatives, drawing praise from Big Jim on Twitter.

To summarize: In the past year we’ve had a massive multinational set up shop in Kanata, seen local companies take outstanding leaps in the autonomous driving industry, and heard that investments in the city’s connected car sector will bring up to 1,000 jobs in the near future.

So, can Ottawa be a hub for autonomous vehicles? At the very least, we seem to be driving in the right direction.