The first autonomous vehicle to be tested on public roads in Canada. Image via @JimWatsonOttawa

Published: October 13th, 2017

The nation’s capital was home to the first autonomous vehicle to drive on a public road in Canada this week.

City of Ottawa mayor Jim Watson, City councillor Marianne Wilkinson, and Blackberry GM John Wall tested the self-driving car around roads in Kanata North Technology Park for a live demonstration on Oct. 11 to much fanfare. Hundreds of people lined up along the streets to watch the car, powered by BlackBerry technology, go through the motions of driving and stopping at stoplights and pedestrian crosswalks.

Until now, driverless cars have only been tested on private or segregated roads.

The test area’s infrastructure had been optimized for communication with autonomous vehicles, including dedicated short range communication transmitters at traffic lights, re-painted street lines, and accelerated installation of controllable LED street lights, the city said in the release.

“Ottawa has established itself as an innovative and smart city, is home to a diverse technology hub, and has the expertise, new technology and talent needed to spark autonomous vehicle innovation,” Mayor Jim Watson said in an Oct. 12 press release. “With support from BlackBerry QNX and its Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Centre [AVIC] and by working closely with all our partners, we are facilitating smart initiatives and research, and fueling innovation and job creation in Ottawa.”

BlackBerry QNX announced its AVIC in Ottawa towards the end of 2016 after the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario approved it for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads as part of the provincial government’s autonomous vehicle pilot program. The company has moved away from manufacturing smartphones and hardware, instead turning to software development with a special focus on autonomous vehicle software.

“Thanks to the City of Ottawa, our AVIC was able to help establish a functional, real-life test route for our autonomous vehicle concept car, which will benefit our growing ecosystem of customers, partners and developers,” BlackBerry QNX’s senior vice president and general manager John Wall said in the release. “Anybody who has driven in Ottawa in February knows that no matter who is behind the wheel, driving isn’t easy when it comes to ice, sleet and snow. We believe these conditions coupled with the City’s commitment to supporting research and development from BlackBerry and its partners, makes Ottawa a fantastic place to advance autonomous vehicle technology.”

Ottawa’s partnership with Blackberry’s QNX team to test new autonomous vehicle technology also includes institutions like Algonquin College, Carleton University, and the University of Ottawa, the release added.

In fact, Carleton’s research branch recently secured $974,000 of funding over three years from the Canadian Safety and Security Program, which is led by Defense Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science and in partnership with Public Safety Canada, for research on securing new connected and autonomous vehicles. BlackBerry QNX also committed to providing technical expertise in the area of automotive software development to help the university.

There are also over 70 companies in Ottawa’s autonomous vehicle ecosystem that are directly contributing their expertise, technology and intelligence to connected cars and autonomous vehicles, according to the city, including Invest Ottawa.

“Ottawa is a global leader in autonomous vehicles and related technologies, leveraging decades of innovation and industry leadership in information and communications technologies (ICT), next-generation networks, wireless, and related hardware and software,” said Michael Tremblay, president and CEO of Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards. “Our region has the expertise and capabilities required to develop, commercialize, and adopt new vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) solutions. These technologies can be integrated into global supply chains and sold around the world.  This new testbed adds critical capability to our ecosystem, enabling innovators to test and commercialize these AV technologies.”

This “milestone” test brings Ottawa closer to being a hub for autonomous vehicles.

In the next phase of testing, the city said Nokia will be joining to add LTE and 5G capabilities to the route, “based on their experience deploying connected car solutions in Germany and elsewhere,” the press release concludes.

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