There are so many advantages to being in Ontario, starting with the incredible engineering talent on our doorstep.

Michael Worry loves a challenge. In fact, he and his team at Nuvation Engineering thrive on them. The bigger, the better. So in July 2014, when Worry got a phone call from Peterbilt Motors asking if Nuvation could turn one of its tractors into an autonomous vehicle – in just eight weeks – Worry jumped at the chance.

“I was confident we could do it,” says Worry. “By then, we’d been working on autonomous vehicle technologies for several years.”

But how did a small, Waterloo, Ontario-based engineering firm – with just 100 employees – get on Peterbilt’s radar screen?

“We really love what we do to the point that we often create projects of our own,” says Worry. “We’d decided we wanted a vehicle that would drive us around while we drank beer, so we took a Ford camper van, turned it into a 50-foot long, fully autonomous vehicle we call DiscoFish, and showcased it at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada. Peterbilt saw it and loved it.”

A large van covered in LED lights that make it look like a rainbow-coloured angler fish
Nuvation is always adding new technology to its autonomous vehicle experiment "DiscoFish"

What Peterbilt was interested in doing was demonstrating how an autonomous truck would be safer and more fuel efficient than today’s commercial vehicles. Could Nuvation integrate its autonomous vehicle IP into one of the company’s trucks in time to meet the deadline?

The Nuvation team got to work and retrofitted a Peterbilt long-haul tractor with an auto-pilot that controlled the truck’s braking, steering and acceleration while driving a set route. The technology premiered – on time – at the 2014 ITS World Congress in Detroit to enthusiastic reviews.

It was a huge challenge, says Worry, but Nuvation succeeded and the system, which could be programmed in real-time by the driver using a console-mounted touchscreen monitor, worked perfectly every time it was demonstrated. Peterbilt was impressed.

And, Peterbilt is just one of hundreds of tech companies that have turned to Nuvation for its ability to deliver intelligent solutions in every area of electronic design.

The company got its start in Silicon Valley in 1997. Worry was 23 at the time and a graduate in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo. Despite his talent, ideas and energy, Worry couldn’t get a business going in Ontario, so he moved to California where he found a warmer reception.

“People there didn’t care I was young and just starting out,” he says.

But by 2004, Waterloo, Ontario had changed dramatically. It had become a tech mecca and Worry decided it was time to open up shop in his former home town. He’s glad he did.

A Peterbilt truck parked in a parking lot
Nuvation’s autonomous vehicle technology keeps the Peterbilt truck in its lane while maintaining a safe following distance and delivering superior fuel economy

Silicon Valley North: engineering talent that’s equipped for the real world

“There are so many advantages to being in Ontario, starting with the incredible engineering talent on our doorstep.”

The University of Waterloo is one of North America’s top engineering schools and Nuvation takes advantage of its unique co-op system, which provides students with five, four-month work placements over the course of their degree.

“Co-ops give students invaluable real-life work experience, while providing companies like ours with remarkable talent and energy. We track and assess the co-op students we take on, and when they’re ready to graduate, we hire the cream of the crop.”

A group of employees standing in the office in front of a life-size coloured moose statue
The Nuvation team, a diverse group that brings together a unique skill set

A unique IP policy that keeps commercial R&D on track

The University of Waterloo also offers a unique intellectual property policy to companies conducting R&D with university researchers. Nuvation has a four-year research agreement with the university that ensures the company receives all of the profits generated by the IP that’s jointly developed, while the researchers get the academic credit.

“This is a huge advantage for us,” says Worry. “In the U.S., all kinds of R&D work gets stalled by university IP programs. Here in Ontario, that’s not the case. Plus, the research talent is so deep. Whatever the challenge, there are always researchers with expertise in that particular area.”


Reputation is everything

Finally, there’s the Canada brand.

“When I’m talking with prospective new clients, I always mention that I’m Canadian, because we’re known for being talented, hardworking, polite and honest. In our business, that’s priceless.”

What’s next for Nuvation? “We’re going to keep pouring out more engineering creations,” says Worry, who sees a radically different automotive industry just down the road, one he’s positioning Nuvation to take full advantage of.

Sector/subsector: 

January 20, 2017

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