Windsor·NAIAS 2019

Canadian companies 'staying on top of' changes in automotive tech

There’s a plethora of automotive technology companies that specialize in data management, informations technology, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles — and they’re not just based in traditional tech hubs like Silicon Valley.

In Canada, there are more than just manufacturing plants

Arif Virani, with DarwinAI, said being at the auto show allows the company to be close to decision-makers. (Darwin AI/LinkedIn)

Canada is ready to bring more to the automotive table.

There's a plethora of automotive technology companies that specialize in data management, informations technology, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles — and they're not just based in traditional tech hubs like Silicon Valley.

Instead, they're based in Ottawa, Toronto, Waterloo — and all the cities in between. This week, they networked with auto manufacturers at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Canvass Analytics, based in Toronto, is a predictive analytics platform that helps artificial intelligence make better decisions. Their display was set up in the 'Canada Pavilion' on the exhibitor floor, just a level below the showroom floor. 

"We're promoting Canadian businesses," said sales representative Brendan Joseph. He said it was important to "aim high" when it came to connecting with the large automotive manufacturers.

The first week of the auto show is designed as media and industry preview days. While there are plenty of new vehicle unveils and award presentations happening, there's also the opportunity for technology companies to network.

The Canadian Consulate was set up to welcome people to the 'Canada Pavilion' at the auto show. (Angelica Haggert/CBC)

"Coming to the auto show in Detroit, we're at that centre of the automotive universe," said Arif Virani, the chief operating officer of a company called DarwinAI.

"If you look down the road you have the headquarters of GM, the headquarters of Ford. All of those companies are sending people to the show to look at the latest in technology."

DarwinAI, based in Waterloo, is a startup that aims to make artificial intelligence more understandable to humans and more efficient.

"Being here really allows us to be close to those decision makers," said Virani. DarwinAI had demonstrations of their enhancements on display, and the business had scheduled meetings with representatives from major auto companies.

Darwin AI lets autonomous vehicles see and react more quickly. 0:36

Rather than showcasing product, an Ottawa company called Lixar focused on their Canadian talent. 

"From a Canadian perspective, there's a lot of talent here that the automotive companies can leverage," said Lixar's Anthony Ferrante. 

Ferrante said traditional automotive companies were being forced to "innovate" and change into software companies due to the disruptions in the automotive space lately — things like General Motors leaving Oshawa or Ford closing plants. 

"Sometimes it's hard for [the companies] to find these resources internally," said Ferrante. "When you look to Canada, there's a lot of talent."

Regional organizations even came together to showcase the talent right across the river from the auto show, with a collaborative booth from four Windsor companies. 

Joe Comartin, the former MP for Windsor-Tecumseh, says the auto show is a way for Canada to keep up with the auto industry. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Consul general Joe Comartin is no stranger to the automotive industry.

Comartin spent 14 years as a Windsor-Tecumseh NDP MP and now serves as the consul general in Detroit. He said it's important for Canada to "keep up" with the industry.

He said having Canadian companies represented at the auto show gives the country an opportunity to do so. 

"The government of Canada has invested literally billions of dollars into the auto industry over the years," said Comartin.

"There's a number of major developments in IT being introduced to cars and we need to be staying on top of it."

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