Autonomous Vehicles, 5G and Dinos: What We Discovered at Discovery 2019
Staff posted on May 30, 2019 |

 Written by Michael Alba, Mitchell Gracie and Emily Pollock.

The recent Discovery 2019 conference in downtown Toronto saw a gathering of entrepreneurs, engineers, innovators, and even the chief life scientist of the Canadian Space Agency. From cross-industry keynote speakers to a show floor full of creative companies and interesting ideas, Discovery 2019 was a successful follow-up to last year’s conference.  

Duncan Wardle, former head of Innovation & Creativity at Disney, giving a keynote presentation at Discovery 2019.
Duncan Wardle, former head of Innovation & Creativity at Disney, giving a keynote presentation at Discovery 2019.

Here’s the best of what we discovered at Discovery 2019.

Every Company is a Tech Company

In the opening keynote, John Ruffolo, co-founder of the Council of Canadian Innovators, said that technology is “eating the world.” According to Ruffolo, even non-tech companies are involving themselves in tech solutions to keep up with their competition in a kind of fourth industrial revolution. “Every company will need to be a technology company in order to survive,” he concluded.

John Ruffolo giving his keynote at Discovery 2019.

John Ruffolo giving his keynote at Discovery 2019.

While Ruffolo’s statement may seem hyperbolic, OCE Discovery hosted a wide variety of combined digital and physical infrastructure that seemed to demonstrate his point. A focus on smart cities at the conference, especially 5G and autonomous vehicles, blurred the boundaries between brick-and-mortar and online. At the 5G and CAV (connected and autonomous vehicles) panel, former chair and president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Ray Tanguay emphasized the need for a strategy that coordinates both carmakers and infrastructure planners: “It’s not just the technology in the car,” he said, “it’s the technology around the car.”

The panel, titled “5G and CAV: Connectivity and Autonomous Vehicles Enter the Fast Lane,” was stacked with industry experts such as moderator Tanguay. The conversation focused on how Canada can remain competitive and embrace this emerging technology. Tanguay was joined by Grant Courville, vice president of strategy at Blackberry QNX; Tenille Houston, vice president of communications and marketing at SmartCone; Larry Murat, vice president and CTO of regional accounts Canada at Ericsson NA; and Scott Stewart, chief executive officer of IBI group. Recent successes and future challenges for CAVs in Ontario and abroad were among some of the interesting topics discussed.

According to Courville, the successful deployment of CAVs relies on three factors: advances in technology, the evolution of regulation and responses from consumers. At the advent of 5G, advances in the technologies utilized by 5G and CAVs are accelerating and have successfully allowed for the deployment of trial CAV ecosystems in Canadian cities. Some of these growing technologies include electronic control units (ECUs), software, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and smart infrastructure.

5G technology is a huge step in technological advancement, not just for autonomous vehicles. (Image courtesy of Intel.)
5G technology is a huge step in technological advancement, not just for autonomous vehicles. (Image courtesy of Intel.)

As helpful advances in technology may be in promising better safety for drivers and pedestrians alike, technology can only go so far. According to the panel, government has its part in future 5G and CAV ecosystems. First, governments need to incentivize the deployment of these networks for successful trials and experiments to take place in Canada. According to the panel, this includes policies such as subsidies for consumers looking to make the switch from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles and CAVs. Second, the panel discussed the importance of governments of all levels working with the risk-takers of the 5G and CAV markets. According to Murat, testbeds are due to government funding in places like Montreal and Toronto and these testbeds allow the risk-takers to harvest valuable data and experience about efficient deployment strategies. That is, without successful trials supported by governments of all levels, 5G-enabled infrastructure will remain out of reach, away from public urban spaces.

The next facet to tackling the future challenges of CAVs and 5G is understanding how the technology and regulations react to contact with the public and human pedestrians. Houston brought up a fantastic point during the panel: social behavior between CAV systems, infrastructure and humans will change as pedestrians grow more comfortable with the presence of such systems and infrastructure. That is, if pedestrians know that cars with ADAS will stop whenever a pedestrian jaywalks across a busy road, then pedestrians will begin to abuse that interaction. This brings up some key questions about the futures of CAVs: if these interactions become too common, will the nature of roads have to change in response?

Spotlight on Autonomous Vehicles

One of the conference’s best examples of combined infrastructure was the section of the show floor dedicated to Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN): a coalition of universities, companies and governments developing Ontario-based CAV solutions. Made up of six Regional Technology Development Sites, the goal of AVIN is bringing together the best minds and techniques to make CAV infrastructure a reality. AVIN's section of the show floor featured contributions from each of the sections—from the Toronto-based MaRS Discovery District, which focusses on the AI behind vehicles, to the Durham Regional Technology Development Site, which looks at perfecting the user interface of self-driving cars.

This part of the show floor included a small test track where attendees could ride in a real AV. This turned out to be a letdown—after we signed our waivers and waited in line, we were led into the driverless carriage only to discover that, “for insurance reasons,” it was being piloted by a man with an Xbox controller. It was, however, interesting to note how AVs are eschewing the traditional vehicle interior and to ponder what they may look like as the technology progresses. 

The AVIN AV test track on the Discovery show floor.
The AVIN AV test track on the Discovery show floor.

AVIN’s big announcement was the launch of the Ottawa L5 test track, a former research farm turned miniature model of Ottawa’s city streets. Developed by Invest Ottawa, the track was named after "Level 5," the highest possible standard for autonomous cars. Essentially, it’s the city in miniature, with crosswalks, traffic lights, bike lanes and other cars to test how well the sensors and algorithms can respond to a real driving situation. So far, telecommunications companies have worked with IoT companies, auto manufacturers, drone companies, and governmental bodies to make infrastructure that works around each other.

Walking the Show Floor

When you first walk onto the Discovery 2019 show floor, you’re greeted by a dancing robot named Promobot, an “autonomous robot designed for business purposes.” Many attendees laughed and seemed to enjoy Promobot, but there’s something off-putting about an android that can fake a smile for business purposes. 

Promobot on the Discovery 2019 show floor.
Promobot on the Discovery 2019 show floor.

Amidst the robots and start-ups was an unexpected display: a cast of a famous dinosaur fossil discovered in 1899, a Diplodocus carnegiinamed Dippy. Why was Dippy on the Discovery show floor? Was it to shine a spotlight on how far life on Earth has come, juxtaposing the cutting-edge technology of the modern era with the primordial power of the Jurassic? Or was it simply because dinosaurs are awesome? Either way, we enjoyed it.

Dippy the Diplodocus carnegii at Discovery 2019.
Dippy the Diplodocus carnegii at Discovery 2019.

One company that caught our eye was Swidget, makers of an IoT gadget that turns any electrical outlet into a smart controller. Spun out of a company that developed technology for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, Swidget’s modular form allows users to customize their smart home to their needs. The device has modules for Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and more, and comes with an app that allows users to monitor their power consumption and control their connected devices. 

A Swidget on display at Discovery 2019.
A Swidget on display at Discovery 2019.

Looking Forward

Be it autonomous vehicles, IoT products, hardware, electronics or software, OCE Discovery 2019 had a lot to offer. It is always great when manufacturers, industry leaders, students and experts come together, share their brain power and dive headfirst into finding the next best thing. Technology excels in innovative ecosystems where collaboration is held in high regard. The details for next year’s event haven’t been announced but keep an eye on the Discovery website for when those details drop. We look forward to seeing you there!

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