Ottawa prepares driverless car test track, first of its kind in North America

The City of Ottawa is preparing to open a 16-kilometre test track for autonomous vehicle technologies in the former location of the now-abandoned Ottawa Biotechnology Incubation Centre, in Nepean.

The space will allow manufacturers to develop and test driverless cars without entering public areas and therefore putting public safety at risk. The 1,866-acre area dubbed Ottawa L5, is adjacent to the Nepean Sportsplex, and will be the first facility of its kind in North America, according to Invest Ottawa.

This space will provide autonomous vehicle manufacturers with a location to test new wireless networking technologies, sensors, car-to-car communications, and emergency crash scenarios under more realistic environmental conditions.

The 1,866-acre area will be the first facility of its kind in North America.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Ottawa Biotechnology Incubation Centre was previously home to biotechnology startups in the early 2000s but shut its doors after the Dotcom Crash in 2002. The news comes after Ontario’s transportation minister Jeff Yurek announced the province of Ontario will now allow driverless vehicles on public roads.

Ottawa AVIN Test Facility Overview

The intersections and roadways have already been built, and future development on the site includes a 5.2-km high-speed test loop, according to Ottawa L5’s website. The land, currently owned by the National Capital Commission, which is also a partner in the test track, is also being eyed for a four-stage film studio.

The Ottawa L5 initiative was first announced in May when Invest Ottawa also announced a $5 million grant by the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) program. Full investment in the facility is expected to be even higher, as several large tech firms have installed millions of dollars worth of into new communications technology.

Related: Blackberry launches security system for autonomous vehicles

AVIN is a program funded by the Ontario government, aimed at building partnerships across the province in order to develop autonomous vehicle technologies. The initiative is also being supported by the University of Ottawa, Algonquin College, and Carleton University. Corporate partners involved in the test track include IBM, Nokia, Blackberry, Ericsson, and Juniper Networks.

According to Invest Ottawa, a formal grand opening, which will involve demonstrations of the vehicles, is planned for March.

Images courtesy Ottawa L5.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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