Windsor and London named one of six regions for autonomous vehicle research

Thursday, May 3, 2018



With $1.6 million in trade crossing the Windsor border every minute, the research here will have vast economic implications for the entire continent, said Stephen MacKenzie, CEO Of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation.


Windsor and London will be at the vanguard of autonomous vehicle research after being named one of just six regions in Ontario to participate in an $80 million innovation and development project.

Research in this region will focus on vehicle cybersecurity and cross-border technologies.

With $1.6 million in trade crossing the Windsor border every minute, the research here will have vast economic implications for the entire continent, said Stephen MacKenzie, CEO Of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation.

“That shows you the impact and importance of that conduit and that trade corridor,” said MacKenzie. “You do not want anything to thicken that border, whether it be tariffs, whether it be inspections, whether it be autonomous vehicles gumming up the works.

“This is important as its own industry and the jobs it could create with the research, products and software. But it’s also important to make sure that as this technology becomes adapted and rolled out, it doesn’t thicken the border.”


The six Regional Technology Development Sites were officially announced this week after an eight-month application process. They will be part of the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network.

The provincial government will spend $80 million over five years for the program.

Windsor and London, which make up the Southwestern Ontario Region, will each receive $2.5 million.

Regional partners include each city’s economic development corporation in collaboration with the University of Windsor, University of Western Ontario, Fanshawe College, St. Clair College, City of Windsor, City of London, WETech Alliance and Tech Alliance.

The other regions are Durham, Hamilton, Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo. Each region, which has a unique focus area, will share information and best practices with the others.

“It’s a great program because it builds capacity in the different regions, but it also connects all of the research, all of the capabilities,” said MacKenzie. “And it helps the province of Ontario promote itself internationally as a centre of excellence and a centre of research and a good place to invest in this type of technology.”

He said the project will also help Southwestern Ontario break into a very competitive and extremely lucrative sector.

“There’s a lot of investment in connected autonomous vehicles going on around the globe,” said MacKenzie. “So it’s very difficult for a smaller region to go head-to-head with that type of competition. But there’s not a lot of regions around the world that have a large international border with large urban centres on both sides, so that’s kind of our niche.”

The local research will include addressing the potential challenges of new technology, such as artificial intelligence or driverless vehicles approaching a border crossing.

“We’ve got one, possibly two new international bridges being built to serve the next 125 years,” said MacKenzie. “So you can imagine the pace of technology change over that time. So it gives us a good opportunity to hopefully build this infrastructure so it can adapt to the technology as it rolls out. “

Cybersecurity will be a big part of that, he said.

“You can imagine how much of a disaster it would be if an autonomous vehicle could be hacked,” said MacKenzie. “And for our region, when we talk autonomous vehicles, it’s not just passenger carriers. We’re looking at autonomous trucks, autonomous movement of freight.”

He said 40 per cent of two-way trade between Ontario and the U.S., and 25 per cent of Canada-U.S. bilateral trade, crosses the Windsor border.

About 11,000 trucks and 15,000 cars cross the Windsor border every day. MacKenzie said that also includes the 6,000 Canadians and 600 Americans who commute across the border daily.

“For the movement of people, movement of freight, we think we’re well positioned to promote the technology, the research, and hopefully commercialize it and create jobs.”

The technology developed here could potentially be adapted for use at other border crossings around the world, he said.

“This is designed to help us develop and help us be a global player as a region and as a province,” said MacKenzie.

He said the project will also have considerable economic development impacts for the region as the research becomes commercialized, attracting companies and investments, and creating jobs.

The car companies are all constantly looking for new technologies, said MacKenzie.

“They want to control the technology going forward and the intellectual property as autonomous vehicles come out,” said MacKenzie. “There is a great demand for that. This will help us attract students that want to do research and study in this field. It will help us attract entrepreneurs and start-ups. And maybe it attracts foreign direct investment as the car companies come in and work, invest and buy some of it.”