Ottawa made history on October 12, 2017 becoming the first Canadian city to demonstrate an Autonomous Vehicle (AV) taking the road on an active AV-supporting public infrastructure. Among other Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, Direct Short Range Communication (DSRC) was used by the AV to communicate with its roadside environment, including traffic lights, to safely and efficiently navigate the route without driver intervention. IoT613 team members were on hand to witness the event firsthand.
The demonstration took place in the Kanata North region of Ottawa, Ontario, home to over 500 tech companies, employing approximately 21,000, many of whom came out to see the demo. This day was made possible through concerted collaboration between the city, Blackberry QNX, Invest Ottawa, and the Kanata North BIA. The crowd was addressed by Jim Watson, Ottawa’s mayor, Mike Tremblay, CEO of Invest Ottawa, John Wall, CEO of Blackberry QNX, and Jenna Sudds, Executive Director of Kanata North BIA. A couple of clear messages came through – Ottawa is not just the nation’s capital but also Canada’s AV capital, and Ottawa competes on its capabilities with real proof points such as this event.
The demo vehicle was a mid-size Lincoln sedan, outfitted with sensors and communications technologies. It left the parking lot of Blackberry QNX, taking to the road and making its way back and forth on a course equipped with actual connected infrastructure. This course will be used as a real-world test environment as more features on the AV and the infrastructure are implemented. As Mayor Watson indicated, this will prove to be a highly diverse test environment, given Ottawa’s wide range of climatic conditions – we’re definitely not in California! The AV had a human in the “driver’s” seat, obviously for safety purposes, but he kept his hands where the crowd could see them, nearby, but not on the steering wheel.
We also caught up with Barrie Kirk, Executive Director of Canadian Autonomous Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence (CAVCOE), who spoke as part of the Connected Communities session at the IoT613 conference in 2016. Mr. Kirk commented that this demonstration was “very important for the local and national ecosystem” and showed that “we are gaining lots of momentum”. Momentum toward a future where mobility services by on-demand AVs, rather than car ownership, will be the norm, which will impact car production by up to 80%, according to some futurists. Mr. Kirk noted that this also represents momentum for Canada as it strives to catch up with other G7 countries in transforming toward a driverless economy. He postulated that with mobility and transportation being such an important factor in daily life and economy, the pace of this national transformation might be best served by combining the innovation and regulatory aspects under a single federal umbrella, rather than separate departments – akin to having the gas pedal and the brake pedal working together for an efficient and safe ride, rather than negating each other.
AV a Microcosm of Broader Internet of Things
The autonomous vehicle and the success of this day reminds us of the much broader Internet of Things space. The AV is a technology microcosm of IoT – connected sensors, generating lots of data, that need to be managed, interpreted, analyzed and learned from, and ultimately produce beneficial reaction. It also raises societal, ethical, and safety related questions that will have to be addressed. Like other aspects of automation and advanced artificial intelligence taking over different facets of our lives, should we address all of these concerns before moving forward, or is it enough to “let the chips fall where they may”?
This local achievement in the AV vertical demonstrates what can be possible through collaboration within the broader multi-vertical Internet of Things community. IoT613 is committed to create a learning and connector hub for the IoT community in the National Capital Region, to help amplify the collective technology, business, and social innovation. To that end, the IoT613 conference is returning in the new year, and will include connected transportation as one of the main themes.