Alastair Summerlee – OTTAWA, Jan. 11, 2018 – Last month at the Bayview Yards innovation centre, Environment and Climate Change Canada Minister Catherine McKenna announced the national Smart Cities Challenge, a $50 million prize for the large Canadian city with the best plan for improving the lives of its residents through innovation, data and technology.

The location of McKenna’s announcement was perfect, because Bayview Yards is a nexus for partnerships between the high-tech sector, post-secondary institutions and all three levels of government — a collaborative community that will not only give Ottawa a great shot at the prize but is also the driving force behind the National Capital Region’s resurgence as a global technology hub.

From areas such as software development and artificial intelligence to autonomous vehicles, aerospace and cybersecurity, Ottawa has built on its legacy as a telecommunications leader to become a trailblazer in forward-looking economic development.

The numbers are impressive: 1,750 knowledge-based businesses in the city employ nearly 70,000 people; per capita, there are more engineers and scientists here than in any other part of North America after Silicon Valley. Underpinning these statistics – and a crucial part of the city’s plan to fill the thousands of high-tech job vacancies expected in the years ahead – is a post-secondary ecosystem that is preparing the next generation of technology innovators and entrepreneurs to tackle the most pressing challenges of the 21st century.

Rather than compete with one another, Carleton University, the University of Ottawa, Algonquin College and La Cité Collégiale are working together and empowering students to do applied research and learn practical skills that mesh with private- and public-sector priorities.

At Carleton, we’re in the second year of a unique internship arrangement with Shopify that sees students split their time between campus and Shopify’s downtown headquarters throughout their four-year Bachelor of Computer Science program. This internship will give them a head start in their careers and help develop local talent who can join Ottawa’s growing tech sector, whether at Shopify, another employer or by starting their own businesses.

This type of integration between industry and education is embodied by the Institute for Advanced Research and Innovation in Smart Environments (ARISE) project. Scheduled to open next year, ARISE will bring together faculty, students and industry partners – from small- and medium-sized enterprises to multinational firms – to collaborate on research and training in areas such as 5G wireless and data analytics.

Carleton research is also feeding into the city’s emerging autonomous vehicle cluster. More than 125 researchers from four faculties are actively engaged in variety of work, with applications as far-ranging as cognitive science, robotics and algorithm predication. They are developing features that will increase the automation level in vehicles to extend the number of years of driving for older drivers, assisting with their mobility and social engagement.

This emphasis on seniors reflects Carleton’s role in the AGE-WELL National Innovation Hub, which focuses on sensor-based smart technologies to address mobility and memory challenges faced by older adults, with the goal of supporting independent living and improving quality of life.

Carleton’s expertise in unmanned aerial vehicles, in concert with data science and wireless networking, will bolster Ottawa’s plan to transform nearly 3,000 acres of public land in the southwest part of the city into a testbed for smart agriculture – a multifaceted partnership to help make farming more efficient.

Meanwhile, back at Bayview Yards, Carleton’s Global Cybersecurity Resource (GCR) is the building’s largest tenant after Invest Ottawa. From the pilot deployment of a “canary” device that can detect cyber threats for local small- and medium-sized enterprises to its leadership of a new global initiative that brings together international organizations to address cybersecurity challenges, the GCR is playing a key role in the development of vital digital infrastructure while preparing students to work or start businesses in this field.

This is yet another example of how Carleton University isn’t sitting back and waiting for support, but is actively researching, creating, testing and commercializing the cutting-edge ideas that will help Ottawa become a more prosperous and livable city for all residents.

Alastair Summerlee is the interim president and vice-chancellor at Carleton University.