Push is on to make Ottawa an autonomous vehicle hub

Ottawa could be on its way to becoming a hub for the self-driving car industry if Kanata North BIA executive director Jenna Sudds has her way.

By Marc Shaw

“My interest in autonomous vehicles, having a number of phenomenal companies here in Kanata North and across the city, is really to find a way for us to have a test bed in our city. How can we collectively push forward in that lane?” Ms. Sudds asked those gathered Wednesday morning for a networking breakfast event focused on the future of the autonomous vehicle industry.

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Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre for Excellence executive director Barrie Kirk and QNX Software Systems senior vice-president John Wall were the guest speakers at the breakfast held at the Marshes Golf Club.

Ottawa tech companies such as QNX may have an established presence in the world of car software but, as Mr. Wall pointed out, haven’t had much widespread recognition.

“Any car with a screen and entertainment, we have more than 50 per cent of the market share. They hear about Android and Linux, but they don’t hear about us,” he said.

According to Mr. Kirk, it’s up to the city to evolve in order to take advantage of its established software base. He also welcomed investment announced in the recent federal budget that would develop safety regulations for emerging technologies that include self-driving cars.

“The city of the future includes big data, smart infrastructure and autonomous vehicles,” he said. “I’m pleased with the direction the Canadian government is headed in. They want to spend a lot of money on infrastructure and my advocacy to them is to spend one per cent of the infrastructure budget on smart infrastructure which would allow us to move quickly to autonomous vehicles, big data and analytics.”

Mr. Kirk did note, however, that Canada falls behind other G7 countries when it comes to preparing for what he said will be a hugely disruptive digital technology.

Automotive technology was a hot topic in another part of the city as well on Wednesday when GM Canada president Steve Carlyle appeared at Carleton University to discuss the company’s advancements in the field of connected cars.

Mr. Carlyle said GM Canada has an “aggressive R&D agenda” and that after being at the forefront of connected cars early on with its OnStar service – which he acknowledged was no longer considered cutting-edge – the automotive giant is once again ready to innovate.

“We have a staffing opportunity in front of us and we’re looking to hire greater numbers in high-end specialized areas like software and networking,” he said in explaining the reason for his visit to Carleton. “We’re here to convince everybody it’s a new kind of auto industry.”

After his presentation, he met with Carleton mechanical and aerospace engineering students to see how they could influence the future of the auto industry. Students showed off projects ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles to hybrid cars.

“We want to get a sense of what’s going on as we expand our mandate and we hire and bring in more work to understand how to connect the universities to that work,” said Mr. Carlyle.

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