Ottawa's facility for driverless vehicles gets multi-million dollar boost from the federal government

One of North America's most advanced autonomous vehicle testing facilities is in Ottawa and the federal government drove that message home on Tuesday with a major investment geared to help small- and medium-sized businesses gain access to world-class technology.

Tucked away in Ottawa's west-end, out of sight from the public, a state-of-the-art mobile command centre is preparing to demonstrate Canadian ingenuity.

The vehicle, which uses 5G communications, will launch a drone, out-of-sight, to locate someone in a field. Once found, an autonomous emergency vehicle will travel to that location to aid emergency crews.

The mobile command unit will travel across Ontario to highlight its innovations, connect rural communities and small businesses to life-saving technology.

"This is the first time it's been on display," says Calin Miculescu, director of sales for Nokia Canada, one of the partner companies. "We've worked very hard with our government partners and Invest Ottawa to make it a reality."

In collaboration with the city of Ottawa and major industry partners, Invest Ottawa has set up this advanced network technology site. It's called Area X.O. and the federal government announced Tuesday that it is contributing $7,000,000 in funding.

"We know that Ottawa is a leader in technologies of the future, such as autonomy and mobile innovation," said Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development. "Today's investment from FedDev Ontario to bring globally unique capabilities to Area X.O. will provide businesses with the tools they need to bring their next generation solutions to the world and create the skilled jobs of tomorrow."

The injection of cash will also create 200 jobs, adding to the 230 already employed at the facility.

Area X.O. gives small- and medium-sized business the opportunity to test next generation technologies in real world scenarios. There are roadways, traffic lights, and a railway crossing, where self-driving vehicles can be tested and augmented. Aurrigo Technologies has provided one of their driverless pods for companies. They use the space to keep enhancing their product.

"This is probably the most state of the art facility on the planet," says Chris Keefe, Vice President of Aurrigo North America. "As you can see now, the weather is rainy and drizzly and this site allows us to test this equipment safely in any manner we choose."

Michael Tremblay, Invest Ottawa president and CEO, says this 1,700-acre future-plex not only provides innovations for businesses that may not be able to afford the technology, it also benefits the larger companies who are supplying the technology to continuously develop, learn and educate.

"That's what we spend a lot of our time here doing is actually being able to showcase the art of the possible," says Tremblay. "We are connecting them up with companies who can take them up to global supply chains so there's a cost opportunity there's also a revenue opportunity that comes with us."

It can also allow companies to leverage other technologies.

Jordan Wallace is an advanced system specialist with North Gower, Ont.-based GPS Ontario. The company is using farmland at the facility to test smart farming. Their advancements in autonomy has shown a reduction in the amount of equipment and with the use of GPS tracking, the crops yield better results, which translates into long-term financial gains for farmers.

Wallace says, at the end of the day, this is going to be what helps grow the economy.