Partnership with Ottawa’s Area X.O Drives Virtual Autonomous Vehicle Testing Through Windsor-Essex

Friday, December 4, 2020

By Dave Hall


The future course of autonomous vehicle testing will run through Ottawa and Windsor as a result of recent major investments in live and simulated testing tracks by the federal government.

The $17-million investment from Invest Ottawa and the federal government’s Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario will fund a new autonomous vehicle test track in Ottawa called Area X.O. Additionally, through funding from FedDev Ontario that was received as part of the Automobility Innovation funding in Windsor-Essex last year, this has allowed for the digital twinning of the test track by WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation.  The simulated testing environment will be deployed at the Windsor-Essex VR CAVE located at the Institute for Border Logistics and Security building.

“It’s a very cool collaborative project involving public and private partnerships,” said Kelly Daize, Director of Area X.O. which is the new name for the 1,900 acre Ottawa property where the outdoor track is located.

“Bringing Windsor into the project adds more breadth and knowledge to the entire enterprise,” added Daize.

A major part of the project will include precise and repeatable testing for short-run, low-speed shuttles which would take passengers on short rides on a specific route.

For instance, they could be used to shuttle riders from their vehicles to hospitals or from their vehicles to centralized workplaces such as large manufacturing plants when on-site parking is in short supply.

“A simulated track will complement the live testing facility in Ottawa because it will allow companies working on C/AV technologies to accumulate the required testing hours that can be achieved by using the VR CAVE,” explained Ed Dawson, Automobility Specialist for the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation. “We’ll be creating a one-to-one scale environment so that testing can continue on a year-round basis with divergent weather conditions.”

The next step will be to hire a company to create scans of the track in Ottawa after which they will be subjected to a processor which will add layers to the images and create an identical simulated version in Windsor.

“It’s a large facility and it will have to be scanned piece by piece to complete the entire scan as accurately as possible,” said Dawson.

Windsor’s VR CAVE delivers simulation capabilities for advanced manufacturing simulations, virtual training, quality evaluations, component simulation, autonomous engineering and testing, virtual drive scenarios, high-end data visualizations and one-to-one scale virtual reviews.

It allows industry to test products and processes without the high costs associated with final verification on physical prototypes.

Overall, the investment will allow for the addition of a new fully-equipped 5G mobile command centre at the newly-named Area X.O. track as well as drones capable of deploying a standalone and secure 5G network.

“The enhanced capabilities at Invest Ottawa, made possible by support from FedDev Ontario, will support the next generation of digital infrastructure and help grow our regional economy and create good local jobs,” said Catherine McKenna, MP for Ottawa Centre and Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, in a news release.

“It’s an old federal research facility now fenced and gated for security reasons and it’s a very, very exciting initiative at a time when autonomous vehicle testing is front and centre in almost everyone’s mind,” said Daize.

“Our goal is to collaborate with Windsor’s simulated facility and build on it so that we don’t duplicate our efforts,” said Daize. “We want to complement each other’s strengths so that we can move this along as quickly as possible.”

Other partners in the collaboration include the Ontario Centres of Excellence and the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network as well as Accenture, Blackberry QNX, Ericsson, Hexagon AutonomouStuff, Indro Robotics, Microsoft, Nokia, Kongsberg Geospatial and TUV SUD.

There will also be upgrades to the facility’s cyber-security technology and authentic railway crossing and mobile dummy test targets so that precise and repeatable scenarios between vulnerable road users and autonomous vehicles can be tested and assessed.