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Nokia, Amazon pledge $4.3-million toward Hamilton incubator

Nokia Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. will piggyback off a recent Ontario investment in autonomous-vehicle-technology to help develop a tech-demonstration facility in Hamilton showcasing urban-development innovations and the capabilities of 5G wireless networks.

Over five years, Nokia will invest $3.3-million and Amazon Web Services, or AWS, will provide $1-million worth of resources and support for its cloud-based services to Hamilton’s Innovation Factory incubator and accelerator.

Ontario became the first province to allow on-road driverless-car testing, in 2016, and has seen rapid investment in the technology as both the private and public sectors race to grab a stake in the future of connected cities. The province earmarked $80-million last year for an autonomous-vehicle innovation network. This month it said it would invest in six “regional technology development sites” – including as much as $5-million for Hamilton and the Innovation Factory.

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With that investment, and those announced Tuesday by Nokia and AWS in Toronto, the Innovation Factory hopes to ensure that Ontario-based entrepreneurs also have a stake in developing the vehicle and urban-design technology of tomorrow.

The incubator, located at McMaster University’s Innovation Park, will be home to research for the province’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network, or AVIN. Its executive director, David Carter – an entrepreneur and former Canadian internet strategy manager for Microsoft Corp. – said Tuesday that autonomous vehicles and how they will change urban life are an opportunity ripe for Canadian startups.

“As soon as you scratch upon autonomous vehicles, everything in our world changes,” Mr. Carter said. He offered a few blue-sky examples of potential spinoffs in a world full of autonomous vehicles. For instance, if cars were shared instead of personally owned, driveways would not be necessary, changing property design. And seniors could live at home longer without worrying about transportation.

The Hamilton-based research, he continued, will focus on the integrated mobility of goods – examining how things get from one point to another across different modes of transportation and seeking to automate parts of the process. Mr. Carter said the Innovation Factory has sought partners such as Canada Cartage to help validate the solutions its entrepreneurs come up with.

During a panel discussion at The Globe Drive Mobility Summit in Toronto on February 8, Alex Manea, chief security officer with BlackBerry, Ben Stanley, global automotive research lead at IBM and Jonathan Walker, transportation policy manager at Lyft, outlined safety and security considerations that will need to be addressed prior to wide-spread acceptance of autonomous vehicles.

Nokia and Amazon see their investments as a chance to build out use cases for their products in future smart cities – hence the demonstration facility. “It’s one of those areas where seeing is believing,” said Eric Gales, country manager for AWS in Canada.

By offering its services, Amazon hopes its cloud platform will become part of the foundation of smart cities and the innovations they could bring. Mr. Gales offered the example of traffic-management technology – which AWS already supports through Miovision Technology Inc., which is based in Kitchener, Ont. – as an opportunity to become closely entwined with broader urban planning.

Nokia is one of many mobile-network companies betting on next-generation wireless networks, called 5G, not just as the future of telecom but also for smart cities. One of its chief global competitors, Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, is part of a $400-million partnership to develop 5G networks in Ontario and Quebec. Nokia, which has more than 2,500 employees in Ontario, largely in the Ottawa area, says the province is a strategic global location for the company.

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“What we’re doing with Innovation Factory – and partnering with AWS, which is a key partner of ours – is to provide a smart-city demonstration platform so we can demonstrate our solutions and technologies to the market, but also to use it as an innovation platform for these [small and medium enterprises] to test against,” said Alex Chouinard, Ontario sales director for Nokia Canada’s global enterprise and public sector division.

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