QNX looking to drive up interest in Kanata autonomous vehicle hub

Blackberry subsidiary QNX showed off its new self-driving car at an industry summit in Kanata Thursday morning, as the autonomous vehicle sector tries to drum up support for a new centre of excellence to be established in the city.

Centre of excellence could 'put Ottawa on the map,' director says

QNX showed off this Lincoln MKZ at the Autonomous Vehicles Summit in Kanata Thursday. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Blackberry subsidiary QNX showed off its new self-driving car at an industry summit in Kanata Thursday morning, as the autonomous vehicle sector tries to drum up support for a new centre of excellence to be established in the city.

The 2017 Lincoln MKZ was equipped with sensors including radar, light detection and ranging (LIDAR), and GPS.

Grant Courville, senior director of product management at QNX, said the vehicle can both navigate and steer on its own.

"That car can actually steer, can actually brake, can talk to other vehicles, can actually talk to traffic lights, can change lanes, can keep you in the same lane," Courville said. 

"What we're doing is carefully proving out that the software we have and the hardware and the sensors can do that intelligently, safely and securely."

He said that incremental process will eventually lead to tests on Ottawa's roads.

"We're not looking for new roads. We're just going to set up some environments — some roads — where we are going to test out initially."

Other regions looking to edge into industry

QNX opened its autonomous vehicle innovation centre in Kanata in December, but other regions have also been trying to attract investment from companies trying to edge into the growing industry.

Courville said the Blackberry subsidiary is planning to expand the existing centre to include vehicle testing. 

Rooftop sensors and GPS help QNX's self-driving car navigate. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

But QNX isn't operating exclusively in Ottawa. It's partnered with the University of Waterloo to develop and test the model.

Stratford, Ont., is also trying to secure a spot as the premiere testing ground for autonomous vehicles in the province.

The Kanata North Business Improvement Area and its partners organized Thursday's summit to connect government, post-secondary and industry representatives to turn the National Capital Region into a hub.

"I think the fact that QNX has located their innovation hub here in Ottawa and is in conversations with universities here is telling of the potential here," said the BIA's Jenna Sudds.

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.

Ottawa city council recently passed a motion supporting the push for that facility to be located in Ottawa.

Building momentum

Sudds said the QNX innovation centre is generating excitement among entrepreneurs in Kanata's collaborative work spaces.

Courville said the company is hiring and also touring to promote its Ottawa hub — most recently at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 

"I think we can really put Ottawa on the map," Courville said. "So as much as we're seeking out those opportunities and those companies — big and small — they're actually coming to us, which is great, and our job is to create that hub through our innovation centre."

The head of the independent, non-profit Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence (CAVCOE) said Ottawa is catching up on the fast-moving industry.

"A lot of ground is being made up, a lot of momentum," said Barrie Kirk, CAVCOE's executive director.

He said government will play a big part in keeping that momentum going, and local companies need to the seize the opportunity.

"There's a lot of different companies in the Kanata and Ottawa-area who can feed into that supply chain, in terms of communications, connectivity, software, processing, sensors, security, safety," said Kirk.