Illinois-based AutonomouStuff sets up research facility at Ottawa L5 test track

Lexus
An AutonomouStuff Lexus RX450h test vehicle. Photo provided

A shiny new Lexus is set to take some autonomous spins around Ottawa’s L5 test track.

That’s the latest news from the annual Consumer Electronics Showcase in Las Vegas as an Illinois-based company announced plans this week to set up a new research facility in the capital.

AutonomouStuff, which develops a test platform for companies looking to develop apps for self-driving vehicles, announced its expansion plans to Ottawa on Tuesday.

The company will operate out of the L5 test track, a 16-kilometre gated facility with all the infrastructure tech firms need to experiment with autonomous driving. The site, which opened last year, is spearheaded by Invest Ottawa with support from BlackBerry, Ericsson, Nokia and other industry heavyweights.

Reached by phone Thursday from the annual tech showcase, AutonomouStuff CEO Bobby Hambrick told Techopia he has already hired nine engineers to work out of the firm’s offices at the L5 site. After the company gets acclimated to Ottawa’s tech scene – and at-times frigid temperatures – Hambrick said the plan is to keep growing its local headcount.

Ottawa’s talent pool was one of the key factors in choosing the capital for a new Canadian research facility, Hambrick said, citing the city’s post-secondary institutions and the strength of its AV sector. Ottawa is also cost-effective for a business expansion, he added.

And with the L5 site ready for AutonomouStuff to hit the ground running on its next major development project, setting up shop in Ottawa quickly became a no-brainer, Hambrick said.

“It hit all the checkmarks that we were looking for,” he said.

The first project Hambrick’s company will tackle in Ottawa is its Open Autonomy Pilot, which it will build on a Lexus RX450h testing vehicle. AutonomouStuff is developing an autonomy-ready platform – from the vehicle itself to the software on board – that companies can use as a testbed for their app development. Some clients might use AutonomouStuff’s tech to make an app for hands-free food delivery, while others might build software to remotely guide massive trucks through a mining site.

At the end of its initial trials at the L5 site, Hambrick said, the company’s clients will have access to a platform that is equipped for driving in “simple urban environments.” What they then do with that capability is simply a test of imagination.

“They get this platform in their hands on day one, and it's autonomous-ready. And then they can build apps on top of that,” Hambrick said. “So I kind of refer to like a ‘smartphone on wheels.’”

AutonomouStuff isn’t the only company in Las Vegas this week showing off tech developed in Ottawa.

California’s Karma Automotive, which is showcasing its Revero electric vehicle at CES, has leaned on local software developers and Ottawa’s weather conditions in developing its latest vehicle. Among contributors to the Revero concept car is BlackBerry QNX, which is also in Las Vegas to demonstrate new capabilities for its platform following the company’s integration with Cylance.

AutonomouStuff’s parent company, the publicly traded Swedish firm Hexagon, also unveiled its Smart Autonomous Mobility portfolio of products at CES this year, staking its claim in the AV market with offerings aimed at speeding up the adoption of autonomous tech.

Hambrick said that when AutonomouStuff’s Open Autonomy Pilot wraps up, the company will continue to work on projects directly related to Hexagon’s SAM product line in Ottawa, making the capital and its L5 site a critical piece of the billion-dollar company’s overall strategy.

“The L5 track is allowing us to continue to develop and enhance the software piece for autonomous driving,” Hambrick said.

“I would say it's a very important part of that initiative of a very large company.”