Finding Municipal Partners for Emerging Tech: Stratford, Ontario, Ready to Experiment
When it’s time to prove out CAV and IoT technologies, devices and platforms for autonomous vehicles, wireless networks and intelligent traffic systems, how do you partner with a city? Whose infrastructure, city streets and citizenry are ready and willing to accommodate? What are the best partnership models to collaborate?
In short, what does a good municipal partner look like? Sometimes it can be a small or medium-sized city that it is nimble enough and ready to experiment.
Stratford, Ontario, is one such city.
Stratford is a small rural city with a population of 32,000. Both a cultural centre and tech anomaly, it is ringed with prime farmland and attracts over a million tourists annually, many to attend its world renowned Stratford Festival, North America’s largest repertory theatre. A global award-winning smart city and “Pork Capital of Canada”, Stratford is a New York Times top tourism destination, CAV development centre, international banking IT centre and most recently, home to the University of Waterloo’s new Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business.
A heady mix packed into 10 square miles.
Just half an hour across rolling corn fields and dairy pastures from tech giant Waterloo, Ontario, Stratford has worked hard to attract new digital opportunities. “We have positioned ourselves as a ‘living lab’ for digital technologies to be proven out and scaled up in real living conditions,” says Stratford’s Mayor Dan Mathieson.
“We are buffered from urban sprawl and bureaucratic complexities, with a manageable 25 square kilometre footprint, yet close to major technology centres. Plus we have this fully functioning fibre-wireless hybrid mesh network spanning the city.”
They built it, and they’re coming
Stratford is taking a broad yet targeted approach to its economic development strategy. Major players like the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association (APMA), Renesas, QNX (Blackberry), Toshiba, Motorola, Hitachi, the University of Waterloo’s WatCAR program and others have already launched live projects in the city. The Government of Ontario designated Stratford as the Province’s official Demonstration Zone for a five-year Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network in partnership with the APMA, its partners and Ontario Centres of Excellence. The city is taking a triple-helix collaborative approach.
After a successful WatCAR pilot project in a vacant parking lot (in the dead of winter, of course) Renesas America built a four-acre CAV test site, the first of its kind in Canada, on the edge of town with a three-year lease, “and we have every intention of extending beyond that,” says John Buszek, Senior Manager, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. “We’re starting with a 10,000 m2 pad with lanes, signals, mannequins and outbuildings, and we will expand as needed.”
The City’s part was making land, power and connectivity available for the site, which City Hall arranged by lowering red tape as much as possible. “The consistent reaction we get among companies we work with is, ‘Wow, here’s a municipality that gets this, wants this, and will work with us.’” says Mathieson. “We have both the network and the ethos for testing and scaling autonomous vehicle and IoT technologies. So we’re saying to Canadian, US, and Japanese technology companies, ‘Come play in our sandbox.’”
To meet a diverse mix of international leaders, Mathieson is attending the Meeting of the Minds’ Mobility Summit in Ann Arbor this month and hosting a dinner for a select group of CAV and IoT thought leaders.
The Path to 5G
Today’s cutting edge technology is tomorrow’s legacy system. Can a municipal government, let alone a public utility company, maintain a margin of leadership in innovation? Infrastructure ages quickly.
“Actually, we think of this as future-proofing,” says Ysni Semsedini, CEO of both the city-owned electrical utility, Festival Hydro, and its data network utility, Rhyzome Networks. “It’s a long-view commitment, but when you frame this as a business case with a decade-long timeline (instead of quarter-to-quarter), it illustrates the advantages of owning your own infrastructure.
“Our strategy is to stay five years ahead of widespread technology adoption. In this world, you need that kind of lead time for development, testing approvals, etc. Technology companies are looking for those conditions where they can keep their options open and make course corrections.
“So we built our fibre/Wi-Fi mesh network in 2010, we upgraded our IEEE 802.11 hardware last year, we’re piloting DSRC now with a citywide rollout in 2019, and we’re currently in discussions with preferred partners (telecom companies) to develop a 5G mesh network and other trials using our infrastructure.”
And what would a public-private 5G collaboration with a telecom company look like? “Too early to say,” Semsedini replies, “but one possibility would be integrating a telco’s back end data system with our front-end mesh network. The lines can be drawn in different places.”
Given that Wi-Fi can’t keep pace with a moving vehicle, DSRC is still developing and 5G is a way off, how do you commit to a platform?
Maybe you don’t, just yet.
“I foresee autonomous vehicles needing to connect with multiple systems,” says Semsedini. “It’ll never be homogenous, so you’ll have vehicles going from perhaps Wi-Fi to DSRC to 5G, and so on.
“Stratford’s advantage is we already have fibre and mesh network infrastructure in place so we can test 5G’s 300-metre range and higher speeds by dropping 5G hardware into our Wi-Fi housings connected to the fibre. We have those options.”
Cross Border Coordination Counts
At a higher level, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed an MOU of mutual support and collaboration to promote the region’s competitiveness and closely linked auto industry that represents a quarter of North America’s vehicle production.
With industry, government and academia converging in a city most known for world-class Shakespeare productions and culinary scene, lessons can be taken from the triple helix partnerships and projects courted and coordinated from the City Council chambers and utility company.
“Stratford is a community with a culture that looks for opportunities, is proactive about infrastructure, invested and willing to evolve with technology and systems,” says Semsedini.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from the Meeting of the Minds Blog
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
The country has provided hundreds of billions of dollars to recover from recent coastal storms but done little to rethink the existing policies and programs that contribute to coastal property losses, or to define new measures that account for the new realities of more damaging storms and rising sea levels.
A key first step toward smarter policies is to improve disclosure of risk associated with coastal properties. This will require better mapping of areas at risk of both storms and rising seas. National standards are needed for disclosure of coastal flood risk prior to sale. Lenders and supporting agencies need to evaluate and disclose coastal flood risk.
By incorporating multiple transport modes into a single application, users can benefit from personalised services which recognise individual mobility needs, easier transactions and payments, and dynamic journey management and planning.
A fully comprehensive MaaS offering could mean the ownership of private vehicles is no longer necessary for people. As mobility needs begin to be provided by a range of services through a single platform, usership could replace ownership.
The potential of MaaS has been recognised around the world. In the UK, the government has included MaaS within its transport strategy. An expert committee of Members of Parliament concluded that MaaS has the “potential to transform how people travel” by boosting public transport, reducing congestion, and improving air quality.
The water-energy nexus is not new. The concept that our water and energy systems are reliant on each other is sometimes paired with a third issue, like food security or public health. This can make it more relevant to our daily lives. Despite a basic understanding of resource interdependencies, city and utility leaders still allow planning and implementation processes to remain predominately separate. A common local scenario finds the water utility facing system upkeep alone, the energy utility not considering other utility issues or city goals as they operate, and city leaders generally focused on more visibly troublesome urban systems, like housing or transportation.