Ontario is aggressively pursuing its goal of being a global leader in autonomous vehicle technologies with its latest announcement.

The province has launched an Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) in Stratford, which is a unique demonstration zone that will allow researchers to hone their technology and test driverless cars in a wide range of realistic traffic and weather conditions.

Premier Kathleen Wynne officially opened the AVIN demonstration zone on Nov. 8, which will receive an investment from the province of $80 million over five years.

“AV technology is advancing at an incredible pace,” the premier says in an Nov. 8 press release. “There’s no doubt that the cars of the future will soon be our reality in Ontario and around the world. We have an opportunity to make sure our province is a global leader in this revolution, continuing to draw C/AV investment and jobs to Ontario with our highly skilled workforce. By drawing from our province’s tremendous pool of talent, we are bringing together academia and industry to develop the next generation of transportation technology — all right here in Ontario.”

The network, in addition to the demonstration zone, also includes a research and development partnership fund to “foster collaboration among automakers, technology leaders, and Ontario-based small and medium-sized enterprises to develop and commercialize [connected and autonomous vehicles] (C/AV),” the government says.

AVIN also includes a talent development program to support internships and fellowships for students and recent graduates, as well as an online central hub and specialized team that will help “conduct research, share information, build connections, and raise awareness.”

“This announcement is a recognition of the strategic investments Stratford has made, through Festival Hydro, Rhyzome Networks and investStratford, in becoming an intelligent, forward-thinking community. It’s an exciting opportunity for us to help develop new economies, update important infrastructure, and drive innovation around the connected and autonomous vehicle,” the mayor of Stratford, Dan Mathieson, says.

The network was created in partnership with the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), which will “bring together industry and academia to capitalize on the economic opportunities of connected and autonomous vehicles (C/AV), while developing the emerging technology and infrastructure.”

“Ontario is a global leader in both innovation and the auto sector, so it only makes sense that as we look to the future we continue to drive growth and opportunity in both of these areas by launching the [AVIN],” explains Dr. Tom Corr, president and CEO of OCE. “Through developing AVIN, OCE has worked with the Ontario government and our partners to ensure that this investment will help prepare our infrastructure, technology, transportation systems and auto sector for the future of connected and autonomous vehicles, while developing talent and supporting collaborations that will demonstrate and commercialize these technologies.”

This announcement comes as Ottawa was home to the first autonomous vehicle to drive on public roads in Canada last month.

There are more than 150 Ontario companies and organizations involved in the autonomous vehicle industry, which employs almost 10,000 people. To help grow this industry, Ontario is planning to increase the number of postsecondary students graduating in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields by 25 per cent over the next five years, to more than 50,000 people.

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