Ottawa’s Area X.O, NRC to become global tech testing hubs for NATO network

Area X.O Lexus NATO
Illinois-based AutonomouStuff has installed its self-driving technology on a Lexus it is testing at Ottawa's Area X.O. File photo

Four Ottawa facilities are among 13 sites in Canada that will test next-generation defence and security technologies developed by companies from around the world as part of a new NATO program.

The federal government announced last week that Area X.O, an all-weather testing ground for wireless and connected technology in the city’s south end, will join three facilities run by the National Research Council – the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre; the Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering facility; and the Digital Technologies Research Centre – in NATO’s Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) network.

“The selection of Area X.O and three NRC labs as NATO DIANA test centres is a testament to Ottawa’s leadership in defence and security innovation,” Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said in a statement. 

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“This global recognition will help drive new business to local companies, accelerate the development and adoption of cutting-edge Ottawa technologies, and create future jobs that fuel our long-term economic growth.”

The DIANA network aims to bring the best and brightest companies from NATO’s 32 member countries together to develop and commercialize new technologies that will be used for the organization’s defence and security operations, as well as to help tackle global issues such as climate change and food security.

No other Canadian city will be home to more than two DIANA test centres, giving the National Capital Region “a big disproportional advantage” over other parts of the country, said Sonya Shorey, interim president and CEO of Invest Ottawa, which operates Area X.O.

“This brings the world to our region and will help bring our companies and their technologies out to the world,” Shorey told Techopia on Monday. “I think this is a massive opportunity for us. It really does cement (Ottawa) as a global tech hub.”

Two other cities, Waterloo and Dartmouth, N.S., were chosen to host accelerators that will provide specialized programming to companies in the NATO-sponsored network.

Shorey noted that NATO countries will be investing “billions of euros” into developing and commercializing new technologies under the DIANA program. 

Companies using Area X.O and National Research Council facilities to test their prototypes will likely also be looking to capitalize on Ottawa’s deep-rooted engineering and programming expertise while they’re here, she added, providing invaluable global exposure to local firms.

“It will give us a golden opportunity to attract new global R&D, new business, new talent and investment here,” Shorey said. 

“It will inevitably accelerate homegrown technology, commercialization and adoption as we’re working with different companies and innovators. There are always spinoff effects and opportunities.”

Shanaz Sigouin, co-founder and chief administrative officer of Ottawa-based defence technology startup AirShare, called the decision to make Area X.O a test site for technology that will be pioneered by NATO countries a “game-changer” for his company.

“We leverage the unique expertise and capabilities of Area X.O for R&D, testing, validation and demonstration,” said Sigouin, whose firm uses 3D printers to produce guided missiles that are designed to disable drones.

“As a newly minted NATO DIANA test centre, we will have facilitated access to this global network, including prospective customers, talent and collaborators. It will also help us to identify new global markets and revenue streams that propel our growth.”

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