Automotive innovation was in the spotlight as dignitaries gathered at Waterloo Engineering today for the official opening of a new research facility.

The Autonomous Vehicle Research and Intelligence Laboratory (AVRIL) – a 7,000-square-foot, $4-million building located near Engineering 7 - is dedicated to automated driving, vehicle connectivity and advanced driver assistance systems.

To mark the occasion, officials including Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo, and Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of innovation, science and industry, arrived in an automated electric car that is being developed by the WATonomous student design team.

“It was a short ride, but that ride told us a lot of things,” Hamdullahpur told more than 100 people on hand for the event. “It told us that at this place, the University of Waterloo, we are well aware of what’s happening in the world and what is to happen.”

An outside view of the new AVRIL facility.

A view of Autonomoose parked outside the new AVRIL research facility.

AVRIL features 10 truck-height work bays and a level 2 charger for electric vehicles, and will soon have a driving simulator with a nine-foot-high, immersive screen.

Funding for the building and related projects include $1.9 million from the federal government through the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and $1.9 million from the provincial government through the Ontario Research Fund: Research Infrastructure program.

“Not only is AVRIL an achievement for the University and for the Kitchener-Waterloo region, but it’s also a feather in the cap of Canada’s auto industry,” said Bains. “This industry is rapidly transforming, focusing more on connected and autonomous vehicles with low-emission solutions.”

AVRIL is already home to projects involving autonomous passenger vehicles, driverless shuttles, warehouse and industrial robots, autonomous field platforms, and commercial trucks.

Former dean Pearl Sullivan talks to students during the opening.

Former dean Pearl Sullivan chats with students during the opening.

Research work on display for the opening ranged from Automomoose – the University’s flagship autonomous vehicle program – to a fourth-year design project on a driverless delivery vehicle by a group of undergraduate students.

“You are, quite literally, laying the groundwork for the future of Ontario’s auto industry,” said Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris, who attended on behalf of the province. “It is clear that connected and autonomous vehicles are poised to revolutionize our world and our lives.”

Former engineering dean Pearl Sullivan took a turn at the podium to help celebrate completion of a project started under her leadership.

“It’s easy for you to remember,” she joked of the facility’s name, a reference to musician Avril Lavigne. “AVRIL is a Canadian rock star."