The first annual AutoTech symposium presented by the APMA (Auto Parts Manufacturers' Association), WREDC (Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation) and OESA (Original Equipment Suppliers Association) was recently hosted by WatCAR (Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research). And while that may be a lot of acronyms to remember, the show itself was unforgettable.

The innovation started early. From the designated parking area for the conference, visitors boarded a shuttle to take them across the expansive University of Waterloo campus to Federation Hall. The shuttle, courtesy of local luxury RV builder, Roadtrek, was literally a rolling showcase of innovation, complete with everything including the kitchen sink!

GM, Toyota and Cisco just a few of the heavy hitters presenting

There were some great presentations and panels with such industry giants as GM, Toyota and Cisco. But what made this symposium unique was the mix of presenters representing the different facets of Ontario's automotive innovation network. In addition to OEMs, parts suppliers, and information technology providers, there were accelerators, incubators, university representatives, venture capitalists, government delegates, and media (Automotive News launched its new Canadian edition).

Local solutions providers such as TrustPoint Innovation and Tyco Electronics (TE) Canada were particularly impressive on the "Cyber Security & Connectivity in Automotive" panel while the world-renowned Communitech Hub took part in an engaging discussion on "Commercializing Innovation."

Seeing is believing – University of Waterloo steals the show

A Chevy Camaro, generously donated by GM.
A Chevy Camaro, generously donated by GM. The goal of the students is to make this vehicle “green” without compromising performance.

The talks were fabulous and the show was incredibly well organized. But a tour of the University of Waterloo Automotive Labs really brought everything to life. Talking about innovation is one thing – seeing mind-blowing engineering research is a completely different story.

The recently opened Green and Intelligent Automotive (GAIA) Research Facility was the first stop, and it made an indelible impression on even the most seasoned automotive professionals. There you could view first-hand the research performed on advanced battery technology, fuel-efficient engines, and connected vehicles. Not only are they working on reducing or even eliminating emissions, but they also discussed the potential to send excess energy from cars back into the power grid.

From there, it was a whirlwind ride of discovery. There were student bays dedicated to every innovation you could imagine from the automotive world and beyond. Unprompted, these students were more than happy to discuss their future-altering projects with the excited tour group.

Whether it was seeing state-of-the-art vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) sensors in action or automotive cyber security algorithms that were complex, yet elegant, the tour was the perfect end to a day of discovery. Invest in Ontario is already looking forward to the second annual symposium!

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