Start your engines: Ottawa’s private AV test track opening soon

BlackBerry QNX
BlackBerry conducted Canada's first on-road test of an autonomous vehicle in October 2017 (OBJ file photo)

Ottawa’s private autonomous vehicle test track, the first of its kind in North America, is almost open for business.

The Ottawa L5 test facilities, housed on the 1,866-acre National Capital Commission Greenbelt Research Farm in Nepean, boast a 16-kilometre stretch of private roadway that’s almost done being fitted with the latest communications technology for a fully integrated test environment.

AV test track
Screengrab taken from Invest Ottawa's website.

The track accompanies the public test track already in place in Kanata North, which allows for the testing of more developed technologies. As well, Ontario opened the province’s roads to autonomous vehicle testing as of Jan. 1, 2019, albeit with strict conditions.

Unlike public testing, companies and researchers can try out much more advanced technologies on the L5 track, which is outfitted with GPS, short-range communications (DSRC), Wi-Fi, 4G/LTE, and 5G communications infrastructure. The infrastructure also includes sensors and high-definition cameras. Demonstrations are planned in the coming months, according to the Invest Ottawa website.

L5, or level five, refers to a vehicle’s scale of autonomy, with level five being fully self-driving.

Invest Ottawa first announced the development of the track in May 2018, supported by a $5-million grant from the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) program. Less than a year later, the roadways and intersections have been built and the test track is almost ready for use. Future developments will include a 5.2-km high-speed test loop, according to the website.

Ottawa is home to a multitude of internationally-known communications companies including L5’s founding partners, BlackBerry QNX, Ericsson, Nokia and Juniper Networks along with the NCC and the city of Ottawa. Autonomous vehicles have been on the city’s radar for a while now: In 2017, Ford opened an autonomous vehicles R&D centre in Kanata North, and in 2018 BlackBerry QNX partnered with local accelerator L-Spark to create an autonomous vehicle technology incubation program that is currently mentoring companies from across Canada including a few local firms.