The push to make Kanata a testbed for self-driving cars

Could Kanata become a future research and development hub for self-driving cars? Kanata North's councillor is asking council colleagues to support the idea.

Coun. Marianne Wilkinson asks city council to support autonomous vehicle R&D in high-tech park

Driving into the future at the QNX labs in Ottawa. (CBC News)

As the automotive world speeds toward a future with self-driving cars, there's a push to make Kanata a hub for the technology.

That could include seeking permits to allow road tests of automated vehicles in its high-tech business park.
Jenna Sudds heads the Kanata North BIA, which includes many of the big high-tech employers in the technology business park along March Road. (CBC)

Those ideas are being pursued by a working group that includes the Kanata North Business Improvement area, the National Research Council, Invest Ottawa and the independent non-profit Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence (CAVCOE), among others.

"We're definitely not a Windsor and we're not about to build a car in Kanata," said Jenna Sudds of the Kanata North BIA, which represents many tech companies.

What Kanata does have is software expertise, she said.

"With QNX being located here, and really being a dominant player across the world in automobile software systems, as well as other parts, it's quite exciting times."

45+ companies could tweak technology for cars

The working group held a breakfast event last March to "take the temperature" and find out what companies are working on and who's interested in automated vehicles.

We're the largest technology park in Canada, and if you can think of any early adopters, we have 21,000 of them in this vicinity. So, the concept isn't foreign to them, it's exciting to them.- Jenna Sudds, Kanata North BIA

Forty-five Kanata North companies spoke up.

"It's actually quite shocking, the amount of activity and the number of companies that are involved," said Sudds.

Kanata has about as many software companies as telecommunications firms now, said Sudds, and many could adapt their technology — or their lasers, for instance — to suit vehicles.

From laggard to leader?

In the mandate letters sent to Ontario cabinet ministers in September, transportation and economic development ministers were tasked with creating a centre of excellence for automated vehicles by 2018.

The local group will push for it to be sited in Kanata North so the centre could do research and take advantage of high-tech workers' skills.

"It would act like a magnet to other companies, and help them to choose Ottawa as a place to locate and help the local economy," said Barrie Kirk, executive director of CAVCOE.

Kirk, whose group does research and consults on trends in automated vehicles, sees huge potential for Canada.

"We are way behind. I look at the G7 countries and Canada is not only dead last, we are substantially behind the other six countries," said Kirk.

"I would love to see us catch up and even overtake some of them."

Testing cars on Kanata streets

In addition to landing the centre of excellence, the working group would like to see the streets of the Kanata North business park used for road tests. The cars would come from elsewhere, and companies would integrate their technology, said Sudds.

"We're the largest technology park in Canada, and if you can think of any early adopters, we have 21,000 of them in this vicinity," said Sudds.

"So, the concept isn't foreign to them, it's exciting to them."

In January, Ontario became the first Canadian jurisdiction to allow automated vehicles to be tested on its roads.

The information that policy makers gather from that pilot project will inform future policies, including details related to the future centre of excellence, said the press secretary for Ontario's transportation minister.

Council to discuss driverless cars

The councillor for Kanata North wants her colleagues to get behind this push to turn the area into a hub for driverless cars.

Marianne Wilkinson will ask them to support a motion to that effect at the next council meeting. 

"I just want the city to assist them in any way we can to get things happening," said Wilkinson.