AVRIL, UW’s self-driving car lab, opens

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Photos by:
Jansher Saeed

Soon after the workbay doors lifted, UW President Feridun Hamdullahpur, accompanied by federal minister Navdeep Bains, arrived in one of UW’s autonomous vehicles to announce the opening of AVRIL on Feb. 14 a UW project 10 years in the making. 

“Not only is AVRIL an achievement for the university and for the Kitchener-Waterloo Region, it’s also a feather in the cap of Canada’s auto industry. This industry is rapidly transforming, focusing more on connected and autonomous vehicles … with low emission solutions, and work being done here in AVRIL will help accelerate that transformation,” Bains said.

AVRIL is a shared workspace allocated towards research in automated driving, vehicle connectivity and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) across a range of mobility applications. 

The project has received nearly $4 million in development donations from both the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund. 

It is designed to be the new center for autonomous vehicle research at UW, according to Ross Mckenzie, managing director at the Waterloo Centre for Automatic Research (WatCAR) in an interview. 

“This is a facility with an immersive driving simulator, it’s got a level two charger for electric vehicles, lots of elbow room, and the truck-height bays are especially critical when you have applications like advanced LIDAR and different sensors that extend the height of passenger vehicles and SUVs. There’s lots of room to play here,” Mckenzie said.

Following their opening remarks, Minister Bains, President Hamdullahpur, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga Mike Harris Jr. who was representing Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade and Pearl Sullivan, a professor in UW’s Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering department and former Dean of Engineering at UW, visited work bays within the facility to have a closer look at the students’ projects. 

Navdeep Bains congratulated students driving forward the AVRIL project on their creativity and innovative ideas and praised UW’s co-op program for giving students opportunities to directly apply information learned in class towards curating innovations in the automotive industry.   

“It’s exciting to see students get involved, come up with creative solutions applying what they learn in the classroom here on the shop floor, really testing out different ideas. That’s what innovation is about,” Bains said. 

Minister Bains pointed out that the government encourages private-public partnerships that place Canada at the top for automotive development.  

“Our efforts to improve Canada’s position extends all across the country from investments in automakers, and of course the parts suppliers. 

We have an incredible ecosystem of over 700 Auto suppliers that really create opportunities for businesses to invest and to increase jobs as well,” Bains said.

Canada is currently experiencing a rapid increase in the sales of battery-powered vehicles. 

These vehicles have grown to become the presiding choice zero-emission vehicles for Canadians, accounting for 75% of zero-emission vehicles sold in Canada in the past year.

“With the number of companies and institutions in Canada that are leading the advancement in battery technology. 

We have the potential to play a central role, the North American and global supply chain for the production of batteries as well,” Bains said.

But zero-emission vehicles can be rather expensive to afford for Canadians earning an average income, that is where the Canadian government has introduced a rebate program to help encourage buyers to buy green.

“[The Candian Federal Government has] stepped up in a big way with a $5,000 rebate to create the incentive for the consumers to purchase these vehicles,” Bains said in an interview.

“Anytime that we can help eliminate emissions and move more cars off the road is something we like to see,” said Harris.