Ottawa’s outdoor research facility for self-driving cars and other smart transportation technologies will open a state-of-the-art test bed for drones and robotic systems this spring, Invest Ottawa said Tuesday.
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Ottawa’s outdoor research facility for self-driving cars and other smart transportation technologies will open a state-of-the-art test bed for drones and robotic systems this spring, Invest Ottawa said Tuesday after the federal government announced millions of dollars in new funding for the site. The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario said it will contribute $5.4 million to Area X.O, a gated test facility on Woodroffe Avenue. The site includes 16 kilometres of roads connected with 5G wireless networks aimed at fast-tracking the design and testing of autonomous vehicle, drone, robotics and cybersecurity technology in a controlled environment under all types of weather conditions. Invest Ottawa, which manages the facility, said the investment will help fund the commercialization of 40 new products and services and create hundreds of new jobs at Area X.O. Up to 70 per cent of the new funding will be targeted at businesses founded, owned or led by groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the tech sector, including women, Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs and members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community. Since it opened in the spring of 2019, the 1,866-acre facility on the former site of the Ottawa Biotechnology Incubation Centre has been used as a proving ground for the latest in autonomous vehicle technology. Invest Ottawa engineers are now working with B.C.-based drone R&D firm InDro Robotics to create an advanced testbed for robotic and unmanned aerial systems technology at Area X.O. Mike Tremblay, Invest Ottawa’s president and CEO, said the facility, which the organization calls the first of its kind in Canada, will allow companies to do “precision training and testing” at the Ottawa site. “It would be a little bit like building a skateboard park for land robots and drones,” Tremblay said. “There’s a lot that you can do with this tech, but it has to be proven out from a precision perspective.” Invest Ottawa is also partnering with U.S. software firm Ansys to develop a platform that allows companies to simulate tests and do virtual walk-throughs of the Area X.O facilities before they put the tech through its paces on the track. Tremblay said the simulation software will save users time and money by giving them a chance to iron out kinks in testing procedures before products hit the road for real. “We’re able to manage a lot more companies with the platform, and we’re able to be a lot more efficient in making sure that businesses get what they need in a more effective way,” he said. “I’m really excited about the potential here.” The test track includes real streets, intersections and buildings equipped with high-tech sensors and infrastructure such as “smart” construction cones that can detect cyclists and pedestrians. Additional features include an authentic railway crossing and mobile dummy test targets to simulate real-world interactions between driverless cars, pedestrians and cyclists. Partners in the facility, which previously received $7 million in federal funding in 2020, include Accenture, BlackBerry QNX, Ericsson, Juniper Networks, Microsoft and Nokia as well as the National Capital Commission, which owns the property. The funding was announced during Invest Ottawa’s 10th anniversary celebrations at Bayview Yards. Tremblay told the assembled crowd that enterprises supported by the not-for-profit economic development agency have created almost 15,000 jobs and raised $1.86 billion in capital over the past decade. “I was moved by just how many people wanted to come and celebrate the last decade,” Tremblay told Techopia on Tuesday afternoon. “Our goal is to be a catalyst. It was just heartening for me to see.”