By Scott Simmie
InDro Robotics and Area X.O – the R&D complex for next-gen smart mobility, autonomy and connectivity founded and operated by Invest Ottawa with an emphasis on real-world robotics and IoT device testing – have joined forces to build and operate a new test centre at Area X.O’s private facility.
It will be dedicated to drone and robot testing, demonstration and training, with the physical site and training modules intended to reflect National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, criteria.
This type of drone training requires very precise drone piloting skills and produces a score. It’s used for high-level drone professionals, particularly law enforcement and other First Responders, extensively in the United States.
Leveraging critical new funding from the Government of Canada’s support through FedDev Ontario, the new facility at Area X.O will be the first of its kind in Canada. With instruction provided InDro Robotics, it will harness the capabilities and infrastructure of Area X.O, and create an entirely new resource for Canadian innovators and companies in a year-round setting.
Below: A rendering of the planned site. Note the caged area at rear for the safe evaluation of drones.
Extensive drone training…
The facility will offer multiple options for drone training, in addition to the new high-level course. These will include obtaining Basic and Advanced RPAS certificates, along with on-site flight reviews.
InDro already has an extensive background with training First Responders, as well as advanced commercial pilots. We’ve done this at InDro facilities and on-site for clients. And the online portal FLYY is a collaboration with Kate Klassen, one of Canada’s most respected drone instructors.
“Online instruction is a tremendous tool,” says Klassen. “But there’s something to be said for in-person, hands-on training once you’re talking about highly specialised skills.”
The facility will combine aerial and ground robotic training and testing – all in a single location.
It’s not just about the drones. InDro Robotics and Area X.O strive to offer training, skills development and evaluation of the capabilities of robots.
Want to learn how to teleoperate a robot? You’ll do it here.
You’ll also be able to put your robot (or one of InDro’s) through its paces. You’ll be operating on several different surfaces, feeling the difference as an operator when moving over concrete, various grades of gravel – even through sand and water. You’ll also be piloting your robot over varying types of obstacles, along with testing the ability to climb at various degrees of inclination (if you’re so inclined).
Want to pilot using a thermal camera? Or try testing autonomous detect-and-avoid and SLAM capabilities? We’ve got you covered.
“There really isn’t any other facility of this type in Canada,” says Reece. “InDro is proud to be partnering with Area X.O to bring this unique innovation to those in the aerial and ground robotics space.”
The criteria for ground robots will also follow standards that are accepted for the testing of robots themselves – as well as operators.
The InDro connection
InDro Robotics has a long and respected tradition of offering training to drone professionals. We have trained police, firefighters and other First Responders on how to effectively use drones within the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARS part IX) regulations. We’re also fortunate to have former RCMP member Brian Fentiman – who was responsible for RCMP RPAS operations in British Columbia, on staff.
In fact, Brian created the layout for the course, and believes there are two types of clients who will want to use the test facility.
“I think there are going to be manufacturers that want their product tested, as well as police departments, fire departments, First Responders, as well as any professional agency that’s using drones,” he says.
“Part of the facility will also help other companies test ground robots – navigating curbs, driveways, inclines, sand, gravel, water and more. There’s also a netted enclosure that will allow drone manufacturers to test scenarios like GPS or compass failures and flyaways. This is a safe enclosure – technically, they are flying indoors and don’t have to seek special regulatory permissions or take on additional risk.”
Brian also points out that the facility has been designed to potentially grow over time, perhaps one day including a section for training in such areas as HUSAR – Heavy Urban Search and Rescue.
For a better idea of what the initial site will look like, check out the video below.
Area X.O: A competitive advantage
Area X.O is already a one-of-a-kind facility. On any given day you’ll see robots taking advantage of the private roads and traffic lights used for Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) testing – or drones being flown to evaluate new capabilities.
The new test centre will enhance Area X.O’s capacity for testing, training, evaluation and development, in conjunction with InDro’s expertise.
“InDro Robotics is a world leader in advanced robotic and drone R&D, and one of the very first companies in Canada to be certified by Transport Canada to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS),” said Kelly Daize, Strategic Market Director of Area X.O. “We are delighted that InDro is building an R&D team onsite with us at Area X.O with 20 engineers and counting.”
“Having this world leader co-located at our private R&D facility creates an immense competitive advantage for the innovators and companies we serve,” said Rebecca Thompson, Senior Manager of Operations, Area X.O. “We are excited to build on our collaboration and put InDro’s industry leadership, technology and certified capabilities to work to accelerate the commercialization of new robotic solutions and build the pipeline of related expertise.”
Below: InDro CEO Philip Reece at Area X.O during the TCXPO event
We’re pleased to be involved with this project – which, to the best of our knowledge – is the first of its kind in Canada.
With InDro’s background in both drone training and robotics R&D, we’re confident this will be a perfect match for our skillset.
“Flying drones professionally, and operating robots, is a skill,” says InDro CEO Philip Reece.
“We look forward to offering our services at this facility to First Responders and professional operators from across Canada on a year-round basis. Whether it’s drones or robots, we anticipate this will become the go-to site for elevating skills and testing product capabilities in a controlled environment. We’re also pleased to again be collaborating with the excellent Area X.O and Invest Ottawa teams.”
Construction on the new facility will begin shortly, with operations expected to commence by summer, 2023.