Innovation in the driver(less) seat: August in review

I was chauffeured around Ring Road in an autonomous vehicle this month. Everything else is details.

Alex Rodrigues – who co-founded Varden Labs with fellow Mechatronics Engineering and Velocity student Michael Skupien – and I enjoyed a safe and smooth ride along the Needles Hall stretch of Ring Road on August 19. It was the first time an autonomous vehicle had taken to a Canadian road.

What a thrill for both Alex and Michael, and our whole University community. It’s a terrific example of Waterloo innovators leading the way for emerging Canadian and global industries.

In a way, it’s no wonder the we produce so many excellent students, alumni, and startups at UWaterloo: building on our academic and research strengths, we’ve worked really hard with our community partners to make the Waterloo region one of the world’s “richest startup ecosystems”, in the words of Singularity University’s Salim Ismail.

Salim is going to be one of our featured guest speakers at the Waterloo Innovation Summit in September, co-hosted by the University of Waterloo and Communitech. The summit, now in its third year, it bringing together some of the globe’s finest entrepreneurship thought leaders and practitioners to discuss what it takes to be a world-class entrepreneurial ecosystem. As one of North America’s premier innovation hubs, this conversation is a natural fit for the Waterloo region.

That was the topic of discussion when I hosted Ed Clark on campus this month as part of his tour of the Waterloo region ecosystem. Clark is Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s business advisor, and his mandate is to provide the premier with advice on “growing a vibrant and dynamic economy” in Ontario, as our province continues its development as a knowledge-economy. It was a pleasure to show him our facilities and provide insight on how UWaterloo and the university sector more broadly plays a pivotal role in driving innovation and prosperity for the province. (Unfortunately for him, he was about a week too early for the Varden Labs test drive.)

As we head into September, I’m looking forward to seeing campus fill back up with its full complement of students. Even at a university that keeps busy and productive during the summer months, there’s just something about the Fall. To those of you packing up this week – whether to come back to campus or perhaps head out on a co-op term – good luck for the term, and travel safely. For those staff, faculty, and upper-year students assisting with Move In – thank you! See you out there.

As for August, I’m winding things up with a trip to Ottawa where I’m engaged in two important efforts. As chair of the U15, I’m involved in meetings with colleagues and partners in Ottawa to move our research advocacy agenda forward. And conveniently, the Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure – of which I was named chair this month – is also based out of Ottawa. Had some great preliminary meetings with stakeholders to discuss what the group hopes to accomplish over the course of its mandate. Our ultimate goal, though, is well defined: we’re working to build a “world-leading, advanced digital infrastructure ecosystem for Canada.”

It’s an essential step in support of Canada’s knowledge economy, and I’m proud to represent Waterloo and Canada’s U15 universities as we move this project along.

Everyone have a great weekend, and thanks for an excellent month.

Sincerely,

Feridun

Note to readers: from June, 2013 through 2015, the president’s monthly review was published in the Daily Bulletin, where this piece originally ran. As of January 2016, monthly reviews are published directly to this blog.

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