First testing facility for fully automated vehicles in Canada officially opens in Nepean

Invest Ottawa and AVIN launched the country's first Level 5 automated vehicle testing facility in Nepean on Friday. Christopher Whan / Global News

Invest Ottawa and the Automated Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) launched Canada’s first Level 5 automated testing facility on Friday.

The facility was funded primarily by the AVIN, an initiative offered by the Ontario Centres of Excellence, which works on behalf of the provincial government to help create industry in growing fields in the province.

The testing facility in Ottawa is unique: while there are other testing facilities like it in the world, the capital’s weather extremes — frigid cold in the winter and sticky heat in the summer — offer a more real-world environment.

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This is also coupled with the fact that some of the world’s largest telecommunications companies exist in Ottawa and are already working on the requisite cybersecurity and infrastructure measures that will one day make fully autonomous vehicles a reality.

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One of the companies at the head of the automated vehicle charge is Blackberry QNX, which develops software that helps to drive these vehicles.

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Grant Courville, vice-president of product management and strategy at Blackberry QNX, believes fully autonomous vehicles will one day exist, however he doesn’t foresee it happening for a couple of decades. For now, it’s more about making sure the stepping stones exist for fully autonomous vehicles to one day be a possibility.

“We are already steeped in this technology,” said Courville. He went on to say that already existing safety features like lane departure assistance, dynamic cruise control and blind spot warnings are all examples of what autonomous research has brought to the industry.

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Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson was on hand for the testing facility’s opening. He says that with an upcoming soundstage and an agri-food tech hub set to be developed on the same property as the new testing facility, Ottawa is quickly becoming a hub for technological advancement.

“We’re so proud of the role technology has had in Ottawa,” said Watson. “It’s our second-largest employer other than the federal government. This is an exciting time for the city. The future is here, and it’s in Ottawa.”

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According to Invest Ottawa, the facility is worth at more than $11 million, with $5 million of that coming from AVIN. The remaining $6 million was contributed by other partners and shareholders, including the National Capital Commission and the City of Ottawa.

The facility in Nepean includes a private track complete with lines, stop signs, crosswalks, traffic lights and even potholes to put test vehicles through the rigours of real-world driving.

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