Surrey’s becoming a lab.
But don’t worry, it doesn’t involve real guinea pigs.
Council instructed city staff on Sept. 27 to develop a pilot project that will collaborate with technology developers to set up what it’s calling an Urban Technology Test Lab Pilot toward having them test their products in this city, on its roads and land.
Council passed this without debate.
It was responding to a corporate report from Donna Jones, general manager of investment and intergovernmental relations, Scott Neuman, general manager of engineering, and Laurie Cavan, general manager of parks, recreation and culture.
Two years ago the city participated in Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge.
“One of the key take-aways,” the corporate report notes, “was that technology companies in the process of developing software and hardware frequently lack a venue for field testing.”
More than 300 technology firms expressed interest in deploying their technologies in the effort to solve transportation-related problems, involving products like enhanced mobility wheelchairs, crosswalk sensors for the visually impaired, pedestrian and cyclist detection cameras that could change traffic lights, and smart-parking sensors.
Applications for technology testing permits in Surrey will be assessed on the basis of four “focus areas,” namely transportation, agritech, sustainability and robotics.
The firms, according to the report, see Surrey’s “physical asset base” as an opportunity to pilot their devices and software, learn from field testing, get feedback from the public and experts, and refine their products before putting them on the market.
“Without the opportunity to field test in a real-world setting, many of the products could not proceed to final development and commercialization,” the corporate report states. It says Surrey is unique in Metro Vancouver as it has a “large and diverse geography” that includes agricultural and “bare” land, waterways and the regions’ largest network of roads. It is also outside of the restricted airspace adjacent to the Boundary Bay Airport and Vancouver International Airport, “therefore offering large airspace parcels with the potential for unmanned aerial vehicles testing.”
Manufacturers of UAV say the current lack of local field testing makes for a “critical gap” in their product development, forcing them to find suitable flight test areas in B.C.’s Interior or out the province.
City staff told council that using the same process Surrey utilizes for film production would provide technology companies with access to “safe, local, ‘real world’” testing zones.
The desired result, for the city’s part, is the generation of “clean technology” jobs, an increase in commercial tenancy, growth of applied research partnerships with academic research programs, and arriving at solutions to Surrey-specific problems such as road safety and enhanced mobility. “There is also potential for new revenue streams derived from licensing agreements,” staff told council.