By Dan Rubinstein
A group from BlackBerry and its software subsidiary QNX Software Systems visited Carleton on March 9 to explore potential collaboration in the rapidly growing world of connected car and autonomous vehicle research.
“We have a strong interest in the research that’s taking place at the university,” said Grant Courville, senior director of Product Management at Kanata-headquartered QNX, which focuses on real-time operating system software and services for superior embedded design.
“We wanted to see first-hand some of the labs and meet some of the people who are doing work at Carleton that relates to autonomous vehicle and connected car technology. We want to see where there might be areas of collaboration between BlackBerry and Carleton and how we can leverage these connections.”
Areas of Collaboration
For the past 35 years, “QNX software has become a big part of everyday life,” according to the company. “People encounter QNX-controlled systems whenever they drive, shop, watch TV, use the Internet, or even turn on a light. Its ultra-reliable nature means QNX software is the preferred choice for life-critical systems such as air traffic control systems, surgical equipment and nuclear power plants.”
In December, BlackBerry QNX opened its Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Centre (AVIC) in Kanata. A group from Carleton visited the facility in January, and the recent campus tour was a follow-up to that trip.
The delegation from QNX was comprised of Courville, Head of Government Relations Eric Smith, Sheridan Ethier (director, Engineering Middleware and Vertical Platforms), Adrian Nita (development manager, Camera, Audio and Graphics) and software developer Jilin Zhou.
They visited the Advanced Cognitive Engineering (ACE) Lab in Carleton’s Visualization and Simulation Building — established to support collaboration between academia, government and industry — and several spaces in the Canal Building, including the UAVs and Micro Aerial Vehicles lab, the Advanced Biomechatronics and Locomotion Laboratory, and the JY Wong Laboratory for Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Mobility, Guidance and Control.
In the ACE lab, which concentrates on research that probes the cognitive aspects of human computer interaction, senior simulation specialist Scott Arbuthnot and research scientist Matthew Brown showcased Carleton’s array of advanced flight simulators and talked about projects that examine how people interact with autonomous systems. Although much of the current focus is on aviation, many of the projects underway could have close links to autonomous vehicle research.
Close Links to Autonomous Vehicles
In the UAV lab, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Prof. Jeremy Laliberté, director of Carlerton’s aerospace unit, and his grad students discussed their work on unmanned aerial vehicles, from sensor communication and GPS and data security questions to regulatory and policy issues. An aircraft on autopilot, or remotely controlled spacecraft involved in co-operative “swarming” operations, encounter similar challenges to autonomous and connected cars.
“A lot of these issues apply whether a vehicle is in the air or on the ground,” said Laliberté, noting that Carleton Aerospace graduates have gone on to work at companies such as Tesla and others in the auto sector, in addition to traditional aerospace employers.
Even the experimental work on rehabilitation robots that can help people recover from strokes, which was on display in the Advanced Biomechatronics and Locomotion Laboratory, is relevant. A safety system being designed to allow these robots to navigate around a hospital and interact with patients has myriad potential applications for autonomous vehicles.
More than 125 researchers at Carleton from four faculties and 13 university departments, schools and institutes are engaged in research that could benefit autonomous vehicle R&D.
Areas of Focus
Among the many autonomous vehicle projects and research interests at Carleton, six main areas of focus are emerging: autonomous operations, data processing and management, sensor technology, wireless connectivity, cybersecurity and vehicle safety.
After the lab tour, the group from QNX sat down for a roundtable discussion with the Carleton contingent, which included Acting Vice‐President (Research and International), Rafik Goubran, Associate Vice‐President (Strategic Initiatives and Operations), Sandra Crocker, Faculty of Science Dean Malcolm Butler and several professors.
“BlackBerry is helping to establish our country as the global leader in software and security for connected car and autonomous vehicle development,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the AVIC grand opening in December. “This centre will create great middle-class jobs for Canadians, new opportunities for recent university graduates, and further position Canada as a global hub for innovation.”
Ontario is planning to create an automated vehicle centre of excellence in the province by 2018, and the City of Ottawa is pushing for the facility to be located in the national capital.
QNX plans to hire local software engineers for its connected and autonomous car project, and recently received provincial approval to test vehicles on Ontario roadways.
“Autonomous vehicles require software that is extremely sophisticated and highly secure,” BlackBerry CEO John Chen said at the AVIC opening. “Our innovation track record in mobile security and our demonstrated leadership in automotive software make us ideally suited to dominate the market for embedded intelligence in the cars of the future.”