One of several automated vehicles at the Ottawa L5 private CAV test track on Friday May 17, 2019.
Tony Caldwell / Postmedia
Invest Ottawa officially took the wraps off of its autonomous vehicle test track in Nepean on Friday morning, showcasing the facility and the technology it has under development there to the world.The track, which is the only one of its kind in North America, has been given the name “Ottawa L5” and is located across the street from the Nepean Sportsplex, off Woodrofe Avenue. It features 16 kilometers of paved roads, multiple intersections, cross walks, one-way streets, street lights, a speed bump and even bike lanes. Basically, every feature that would be seen on a real road has been crammed into the contained test facility.“The City recognizes the tremendous opportunity this presents to grow and diversify our local economy,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. “Not only are we demonstrating that Ottawa is a global leader in autonomous vehicles; we will also capitalize on the facility by testing new technologies that will help improve the lives of our residents.”
Oner of several automated vehicles at the Ottawa L5 Private CAV Test Track at the Ottawa Greenbelt in Ottawa Friday May 17 2019.
Tony Caldwell /
The facility has been created through a partnership between the City of Ottawa, the National Capital Commission (which owns the land on which Ottawa L5 runs) and several private sector businesses.The new track isn’t just being used to test cars.Nokia and Ericsson are using it as a test bed for next generation (5G) wireless technologies, which include testing special public safety cellular technologies that could lay the test bed for the future of emergency communication’s systems. SmartCone Technologies Inc. is using the roadway to test its new traffic cone, which has the ability to send signals to cars that tell them a lane is closed ahead for construction or a parade. Sensors have been embedded into parts of the pavement, which have the ability to gauge weather and temperature conditions, sending alerts to oncoming vehicles of black ice or wet roadways so they can slow down. Microsoft Corp. is also at the site, testing its cloud computing abilities. The vehicles and sensors at L5 produce massive amounts of data that must be stored, catalogued and processed in order to be useful. Companies like Microsoft will be key in helping with that component of any autonomous vehicle technologies that eventually make their way to the mainstream market.Seeing technologies make it to the mainstream market is what Invest Ottawa is trying to accomplish at the new research facility. Any technology that proves itself at L5 — which is a closed network of roadways where people can’t be hurt if something goes wrong — could be deployed to Ottawa’s public autonomous vehicle testing track, which is made of a series of actual intersections that are in use by commuters daily in Kanata.“We are entering an era of profound transformation where automation will be brought about by the digitalization and connection of everything and everyone,” said Shawn Sparling, head of Nokia’s Enterprise and Public Sector Business for Canada. “It is initiatives like the Ottawa L5 test facility that play a critical role in building and testing the ecosystem needed to address the extremely demanding requirements of the burgeoning connected and autonomous vehicle market, as well as bringing broad innovation to cities.”The new facility has been made possible thanks to a $5 million grant from the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN), which is administered by Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE). It’s also received around $6 million worth of technology, which has been donated to the facility from partners like Ericsson, Nokia and Microsoft, as well as others.OCE saw its funding slashed earlier this month by Ontario’s PC government. Andrew Robertson, a spokesman for OCE, wouldn’t provide any specifics about how deep the government’s cut are or what impact they will have on funding initiatives like Ottawa L5 in the future.The money already provided to Ottawa L5 will allow it to operate for at least the next three years.Several PC MPPs were on hand for the Ottawa L5 announcement on Friday. Despite the funding cutbacks, they all showed support for the facility.“Ontario is home to over 200 companies developing connected and autonomous vehicle technologies — this places us at a major advantage when it comes to designing and building the next generation of vehicles,” said Todd Smith, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. “Technology has blurred the line between a car company and a tech company.”Although the Friday event marked the facility’s official launch, officials with the facility said more than 36 companies have already used the facility to run tests on various technology. And more companies are coming.Invest Ottawa chief executive officer Michael Tremblay said the next challenge for Ottawa L5 will be in building a business model that allows it to operate as a stand alone entity that doesn’t rely on funding from government. He said Accenture has been brought in to prepare a business plan for the facility, which would spell out how it charges its customers to use the test track. The business plan is expected within the next six weeks.