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Video: Automated car tech tested at Calgary snow dump

Testing for autonomous car technology is happening right here in Calgary and the city’s offering up a test area to conduct the research.

The City of Calgary is loaning out a massive space in its northeast Calgary snow dump site near the Spring Gardens bus barns for NovAtel (part of Hexagon Positioning Intelligence) to refine its high-precision positioning system.

It’s a part of Calgary’s Living Labs initiative that leverages city assets to aid businesses in their growth and development.

On Thursday, Hexagon/NovAtel demonstrated how a vehicle outfitted with their high-tech positioning could navigate an area with a series of systems, including: Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) Radio detection and ranging (RADAR) and cameras working together.

“If you can’t know where you are and where you’re trying to get to, you can’t be autonomous,” said Sandy Kennedy, VP Innovation with Hexagon.

“The next layer on top of that is that, as well, now I need to know what’s around me.”

Longtime automated car tech for NovAtel

NovAtel, which has been a precise positioning company in Calgary since the 1980s, has been involved in unmanned vehicles since the early days and now they’re immersed in the larger systems around autonomous vehicle development.

They’ve been working with sensitive, high-resolution sensors typically reserved for scientific or military uses, but the cost of that technology is in the tens or hundreds of thousands, Kennedy said. Not feasible for a mass consumer use.

While they’ll be testing how the systems interface with one another, or “the boring plumbing things,” to ensure the data works together, they’re also going to be testing a variety of less expensive sensors to see where cost and efficacy meet.

This screen shows the operator the objects that are around it, using a variety of sensing technology. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

“How is it that you strip that down to the minimum necessary to get the job done reliably and safely in a representative environment where it could be used,” said Kennedy.

“So, for this area, it lets us put all the pieces together, and then start working on, how is it that you refine that down to something that is really, really optimized for mass usage?”

Hexagon/NovAtel will be doing ongoing automated car testing in the area, setting up different navigable courses for the cars to test the tech.

30 Living Labs projects for City of Calgary

This is the latest of 30 Living Labs projects done through the City of Calgary that has industry use valuable assets they would have to otherwise buy land for and build on their own, said Andrew Sedor, Business Development Coordinator with the city.

“We have to find ways to be innovative and help out industry without being a burden on the taxpayer,” Sedor said.

“This is one way that we can do it.”

Sedor said their opening of the Shepard landfill to companies operating drones, and then the space at Point Trotter Industrial Park, are the other recent, high-profile projects.

Since the spaces are being maintained and operated already, there’s no additional cost to the taxpayer, Sedor said. If there are any additional licenses, infrastructure or repair costs for the project, those are passed back to the industry partner.

The tech gadgetry, some that’s manufactured here in Calgary, make up the information system for the automated car. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Right now, the snow dump site would be sitting vacant. This location will likely not be full until late winter, early spring.

“We have a lot of these very specific things, like a snow dump site, that aren’t readily available to companies like (Hexagon),” Sedor said.

The side benefit of the project is the city gets a first-hand look at some of the new technology being developed in the city and how it might benefit the city in the future, Sedor said.

Sedor said they’re open to more companies looking for spaces to conduct work. They have field, tarmacs and warehouses available for use.

Any interested companies can visit Calgary.ca/livinglabs for more information.