Snow dump site to science lab

Living Labs initiative provides practice grounds for autonomous vehicle tech

What do you do with a snow dump site when there’s no snow to store? Use it for testing autonomous vehicle technology, of course. Since September, the City of Calgary’s Living Labs program has had an agreement with Hexagon's Positioning Intelligence division (Hexagon PI) based in Calgary, to turn The City’s empty northeast snow dump site into a testing ground and laboratory.

Hexagon PI is a global leader in providing positioning for unmanned vehicles and technology. Testing unmanned vehicles for accuracy and safety is easier in a controlled environment – the empty snow storage site is a perfect fit.

The Living Labs program aims to support businesses and researchers by making City-owned data, public spaces, transportation corridors and land more accessible to industry innovators like Hexagon PI to research and test ideas and products.

During a recent demonstration Hexagon’s VP of Innovation, Sandy Kennedy and her team showed how a vehicle outfitted with its high-tech positioning could navigate an area with an array of systems including: Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), Inertial Navigation System (INS), Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), Radio detection and ranging (RADAR) and multiple cameras. The key objective of this testing is to find cost efficiencies that would allow for the use of more economical sensors, which will help make autonomous vehicles more attainable.

“Not only are we testing how the technologies work together, we’re going to test a variety of less expensive sensors to see where cost and efficiencies meet,” said Kennedy. “Previously, we used scientific and military level sensors that cost in the hundreds of thousands. Testing less expensive sensors will make it more feasible for mass consumer use in the future.”

“Using The City’s infrastructure for our research cuts our costs and simplifies operations, allowing us to remain competitive and spend more resources on actual research,” explained Kennedy.

Finding innovative uses for existing facilities for research helps The City of Calgary create an environment and culture that nurtures business and stimulates the economy. This support reduces barriers to success and gives local companies an edge as they move to compete globally.

For Hexagon PI, this use of an empty snow dump site – free of charge to help with testing – means they may one day lead in the mass deployment of autonomous vehicle positioning technology. And that’s exactly what The City’s Living Labs initiative is all about, explains Andrew Sedor, Development Coordinator with The City of Calgary.

“We work to finds ways for The City’s assets to be accessed by companies such as Hexagon PI to advance their research and development, and help diversify Calgary’s economy,” said Sedor.

This is the second time The City has worked with Hexagon PI. In 2018, ELA or ‘Electric Autonomous’ rolled into Calgary and ferried passengers between the Calgary Zoo and TELUS Spark through September. The vehicle used Hexagon PI technology.

“In Calgary’s current economic climate, anything we can do creatively to be innovative and help out industry while being responsible to the taxpayer needs to be done.” Sedor said. “This is one way that we can do it.”

There are currently more than 30 Living Labs in Calgary, each offering up economical and creative options helping accelerate innovation and economic diversification in Calgary.

Currently, Calgary businesses are using the Living Labs program to test and develop drones, conduct LiDAR testing, improve and test Indoor Positioning Systems and better manage fresh water resources. Calgary’s reputation as a Living Lab is growing with more of these creative uses being found for ordinary resources, like a snow dump site, being found every day to create business-friendly environment. Calgary companies, researchers and individuals are encouraged to contact The City with their ideas, inspirations and requests. Living Labs is one of the many ways that your City creates an open and supportive innovation ecosystem. Visit for more information.

Calgary is a dynamic and resilient city and The City of Calgary and its partners are committed to our economic recovery to make life better every day for citizens, customers, communities and businesses. To learn more about our efforts to support “Calgary’s Comeback”, visit