GM investing in connected car research at Waterloo U

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The president of General Motors Canada announced yesterday that the company will set up a research outpost at the University of Waterloo’s Communitech innovation research hub. The car maker will also endow a research chair in the university’s Engineering Faculty with $1 million. The purpose of both of these commitments is to further the company’s efforts to bring to advance development of what it calls the “connected car.” The engineering research will concentrate on light-weight materials for use in cars. The money will also sponsor student design work.

Speaking to the Canadian Club of Toronto, Steve Carlisle, said that the emergence of the connected car is one of the three major areas of rapid innovation that are happening in the auto industry today. Connectivity in cars, which will eventually lead to driverless cars, is made possible by arrays of sensors, big data, and high-speed mobile networks. The automobile, he said, is the next big platform for wireless innovation, a key driver in the emerging Internet of Things. Connectivity includes vehicles to other vehicles, vehicles to roads, and vehicles to drivers. GM already has a big lead over its competitors, with 1 million 4G LTE connected vehicles on the road in North America compared to 25,000 among all other makers.

Connectivity, he said, is now a top reason given by consumers, especially younger ones, for buying a particular car model. For parents of younger drivers, connectivity will make possible a whole new range of safety features, such as “Teen Driver,” a parent-initiated app that tracks maximum speed, distance, anti-lock brake use, and more.

Carlisle linked the emergence of GM’s connected car to Canada’s urban infrastructure needs and the billions committed by governments to upgrading it. He also challenged governments to take a leadership role “in all aspects of transportation.” Issuing a call to action to governments at all levels, Carlisle said that we have an opportunity to “gain far greater value from our infrastructure investments, reduce traffic and GHGs, and above all grab this unique opportunity to anchor and unlock significant new economic potential for Canada.”

Waterloo University’s engineering faculty is in the news for another reason as well; it broke ground today on a new $88-million building designed by renowned architectural firm Perkins + Will and to be built by EllisDon. Engineering 7, as it will be known, will provide state-of-the-art facilities to advance research work on emerging and disruptive technologies such as machine intelligence, automation of knowledge, and wearable biomedical devices.

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