Earlier this summer, I represented Toronto Global at a roundtable of leaders from Detroit’s automotive sector, including Canada’s Minister of International Trade, the Canadian Consul General in Detroit, and the Director of Durham College’s AI Hub, to talk about what’s happening in Canada and the Toronto Region. It’s no longer news that we’re having a tech moment, fuelled in part by its world-beating depth and breadth of AI expertise. It’s also no secret that AI is having a transformational impact across an array of industries, especially manufacturing and the auto sector.
Joined by AI companies, automakers, OEMs and suppliers, the roundtable was an open forum to discuss AI in the automotive sector; how it is transforming manufacturing and transportation networks, the implications and opportunities of autonomous driving, and the leading role the Toronto Region is playing in this burgeoning field.
By now, our AI assets are well understood. We have the largest concentration of AI startups in the world. We are home to Geoffrey Hinton and the Vector Institute. Over the last five years, we created more tech jobs than San Francisco, New York and Seattle. Samsung, Etsy, LG, Adobe and NVIDIA have all recently set up AI labs here. We get it. The Toronto Region’s AI and tech scene are on fire. But why should a room full of auto executives in Detroit care?
Simply, there is nowhere else in the world that has a thriving AI ecosystem intertwined with a major automotive manufacturing sector. It’s the combination of these two assets that can’t be ignored by auto companies. Here in Toronto, there is a natural fit between research and application, which is taking place all across the region. Take, for example, the Durham College AI Hub in Oshawa. The institute has a mandate for applied research and business solutions that is closing the gap between AI opportunity and commercial success. It aims to simplify the adoption of artificial intelligence techniques for the small and medium sized enterprises that make up the bulk of Ontario’s economy. The region certainly has no shortage of AI-focused startups, but it is through initiatives like the Durham AI hub that this local expertise in AI can be spread across all of industry.
Sharing a campus with Durham College is the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), which is home to the GM Automotive Centre of Excellence (ACE). ACE has one of the largest and most sophisticated climatic wind tunnels on the planet. Wind speeds in the tunnel can reach 300 kilometres per hour with temperatures that range from -40 to +60°C. Using solar arrays and storm generators the facility can create any weather conditions imaginable, from sweltering jungle downpours to the paralyzing cold of an arctic storm. These chambers are helping to test AI-driven autonomous vehicles by experimenting on, for example, how well a driverless car can navigate in freezing rain or dense fog.
The Toronto Region leads the world in the convergence of research into AI, autonomous driving, and the connected car, and automakers worldwide are taking notice. GM recently announced plans to open a 700-person technical centre in Markham to conduct R&D on autonomous cars. Uber just announced a major expansion of its Advanced Technologies Group. There’s a good chance the next big automotive breakthrough might just come from somewhere in the Toronto Region.