Business Strategy

Research Collaboration Options for Autonomous Transportation Innovators

Autonomous transportation (AT) has been turning a lot of heads in Canada and around the world with its rapidly developing technologies. As cities keep growing, the need for safe and environmentally conscious transportation systems is paramount. AT is showing promise in addressing many of these challenges by reducing gridlock and decreasing collision rates, therefore saving Canadian lives and optimizing traffic flow.

“The long-term promise of Canada’s automotive future is on-demand, convenient, accessible, and affordable transportation across the country.”

Jeannette Montufar, PhD, P.Eng., FCAE, Chair of the Expert Panel

Although Canadians see a lot of potential in current autonomous transportation technology, these vehicles have a long way to go before widespread use can become a reality. This progress will have to be achieved through extensive AT research and development by industry partners around the world. Canadian autonomous transportation companies are painfully aware of this challenging reality and the significant investments needed to get there. But this challenge doesn’t have to be faced alone thanks to government funded collaborative research projects.

Top Programs for Collaborative Autonomous Transportation (AT) Research

To stay ahead of research and development trends, Canadian AT companies should be aware of government funding programs that are available to ease the financial burden and open doors to collaborative partners. These programs offer opportunities to reduce expenses while partnering with Canada’s top talent. Therefore, Canadian AT companies can worry less about steep research costs and focus more on positioning themselves as leaders in this burgeoning industry.

“While no baseline results are currently available specifically for Canada, the Boston Consulting Group estimates that, with an average of 12 million vehicles sold each year around the world, the AV industry may be worth as much as $77 billion by 2035.”

-ICTC, Autonomous Vehicles and The Future of Work in Canada

These strategies, typically called collaborative research projects, are often a partnership between a Canadian industry partner and an academic institution. Here are some of the top funding organizations that are available to connect these two entities to advance autonomous transportation technological capabilities:

The Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) Talent Development Program (TDP)

The Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) ensures that Ontario is at the forefront of the transformation in transportation and mobility preferences. AVIN capitalizes on the economic potential of automotive technologies and smart mobility solutions such as connected and autonomous vehicles (C/AVs) and electrification, enabling the province’s transportation and infrastructure networks to plan for and adapt to this evolution.

AVIN offers small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) an opportunity to bring on students and recent graduates to their teams as young talent. This opportunity is offered in the form of theirAVIN: Talent Development Program (TDP)which hastwo stream: TalentEdge Fellowship Program (TFP) and TalentEdge Internship program (TIP).

TalentEdge Fellowship Program (TFP)

The TalentEdge Fellowship Program (TFP) supports both Ontario PhD graduates and fellows, as well as Ontario companies looking to perform research and development in the C/AV industry.

Funding Amount:

  • Offers may provide up to $35,000 in OCI contributions per every 12-month unit;
  • A minimum contribution of $50,000 must be made by the industry partner per 12-month unit (minimum of $52,500 must go to fellow); and
  • The remainder of the funds may be used for direct project costs.

Eligible Applicants:

Fellows must meet the following criteria:

  • Recently grad with a doctoral degree (PhD) from an accredited, public, university during fellowship period;
  • Not enrolled in a co-op program or other equivalent job placement/employment program; and
  • Has no conflict of interest with the company and is not a current or past company employee.

Company/Industry Partner must meet the following criteria:

  • For-profit, incorporated in Ontario, and is valid CRA business in good financial status and standing with OCI;
  • Company subsidiaries are eligible provided they meet all above criteria; and
  • For institution-based internships, applicant and industry partner MUST have an arms-length relationship.

It is important to review the full list of Eligible applicant criteria before applying.

Eligible Activities:

Eligible TFP projects must meet the following criteria:

  • Clear projects with outlined activities, checkpoints, and outcomes, to measure during the fellowship;
  • Is R&D related for Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (C/AV) tech;
  • Fellows must have on-the-job training in C/AV technologies such as software and hardware development, AI, and data analytics; and
  • Must be commensurate with fellow’s field of expertise.

These are only some of a larger list of project criteria.

Program Deadline:

The TalentEdge Fellowship Program (TFP) has an open intake.

TalentEdge Internship Program (TIP)

The TalentEdge Internship Program (TIP) helps Ontario undergraduates, masters, and current PhD students looking to complete an internship get in a term with an Ontario company in the C/AV industry. The purpose of this internship is to encourage research and development in C/AV for both parties.

Funding Amount:

  • Offers may provide up to $10,000 in OCI contributions per every four-month unit;
  • A minimum contribution of $10,000 must be made by the industry partner per four-month unit (minimum of $10,000 must go to intern); and
  • The remainder of the funds may be used for direct project costs.

Eligible Applicants:

Eligible Interns must meet the following criteria:

  • Final year undergrads, recent grads, masters, and PhD students at accredited school;
  • Interns must have active-student status for Institution-based internships. Interns at company-based internships must be eligible to work in Ontario and be given employee status at the company for internship. Consecutive internships allowed; and
  • Interns may not apply with company that has conflict of interest. Interns in co-op program or other job placement may not apply. Interns may not apply if they are current or past employee of company.

Company/Industry Partner must meet the following criteria:

  • For-profit, incorporated in Ontario, and is valid CRA business in good financial status and standing with OCI;
  • Company subsidiaries are eligible provided they meet all above criteria; and
  • For institution-based internships, applicant and industry partner MUST have an arms-length relationship.

It is important to review the full list of Eligible applicant criteria before applying.

Eligible Projects:

Eligible TIP projects must meet the following criteria:

  • Clear projects with outlined activities, checkpoints, and outcomes, to measure during the internship;
  • Is R&D related for Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (C/AV) tech;
  • Interns must have on-the-job training in C/AV technologies such as software and hardware development, AI, and data analytics; and
  • Must be commensurate with intern’s field of expertise.

These are only some of a larger list of project criteria.

Program Deadline:

The TalentEdge Internship Program (TIP) has an open intake.

AVIN and the Centre for Integrated Transportation and Mobility (CITM)

AVIN has established six Regional Technology Development Sites (RTDS) to leverage Ontario’s clusters of innovation and its regional strengths and capabilities. In these RTDS, SMEs can develop, test, and prototype their advanced automotive technologies and smart mobility solutions. They may also tap into specific advice, expertise, and knowledge around key focus areas for the sector. The Centre for Integrated Transportation and Mobility (CITM) in Hamilton is one of these RTDS.

“SMEs work with CITM to identify specific research needs, develop proposals, and complete a project collaborating with students from a designated academic program or course to solve their real business challenges.”

CITM has cultivated partnerships with several applied and academic research institutions.  CITM and AVIN are great resources for helping autonomous vehicle innovators partner with research collaborative institutions.


The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) offers extensive funding and support to post-secondary institutions, including grants specifically for industry-academic research partnerships. TheNSERC Alliance Grants promote productive collaborative research partnerships between private corporations and post-secondary institutions. The purpose is to bridge the talents and research capabilities of industry partners by allowing them to tap into universities’ and colleges’ talent and research infrastructure.

However, NSERC does differ from other programs because funding will generally be contributed to the project directly via the partnering post-secondary institution. This allows the selected professor and their team of students to have direct access to necessary project funds, in addition to their department’s research lab, equipment, and materials for specialized AT research. By operating in this manner, the partnering business or organization may recover a large portion of these expenses.

Funding Amount:

  • Successful NSERC Alliance funded projects may receive up to 50-66.7% in project cost coverage for SMEs to a maximum of $20,000 to $1 million annually per project.
  • The average length of a project carried out through NSERC funding spans one to five years, which may be extended if the project scope grows beyond its original scope.
  • The industry partner is expected to contribute both cash and in-kind contributions towards the research project.
  • As the post-secondary institution supplies much of the research-heavy resources, the responsibility for leveraging R&D results into tangible benefits for Canadians falls on the shoulders of the partnering business. Therefore, the organization should have an outlined plan of execution for using the research results in a productive commercial setting and that they possess the resources necessary to bring these designs to fruition.

Eligible Applicants:

Industry collaborators must meet the following requirements:

  • Operate independently from a Canadian base and produce goods or services, or perform research and development activities;
  • Be in operation for at least two years or be poised for exceptional growth; and
  • Have at least two full-time employees.

Review the full list of applicant requirements.

Canadian university partners must meet the following requirements:

  • Demonstrate the expertise and necessary resources to support the project;
  • Meet expectations defined by the industry partner; and
  • Not partner with a business that they have collaborated with in the past.

Eligible Activities:

Some of the eligible activities for the NSERC program are:

  • Generate new knowledge and/or technology to address complex challenges;
  • Create economic, social and/or environmental benefits;
  • Contribute to Canada’s long-term competitiveness; and
  • Support public policy.

These are only some of a larger list of eligible activities.

Program Deadline:

Funding applications are continuously accepted and reviewed by NSERC and may take 4-16 weeks for approval. Smaller projects that request less funding may be reviewed more quickly.

Funding for Research & Development Through the Mitacs Organization

The Mitacs organization takes a different approach from NSERC, offering hybrid research internship opportunities, where industry partners can hire post-secondary talent towards a specific research project, however 50% of their time is spend at the academic institution and the other 50% with the industry partner.

Mitacs offers two streams of funding suitable for companies in AT; Mitacs Accelerate and Mitacs Elevate. Both programs offer strong collaborative research opportunities for post-secondary institutions and Canadian companies in the autonomous transportation sector.

Mitacs Accelerate Stream

The Mitacs Accelerate stream pairs a business with Masters, PhD or postdoctoral fellowship interns to innovate new and exciting ways to address industry challenges. Internships allow for a flexible time period that may be extended as the scope of project expands.

Funding Amount:

  • The partnering business will be expected to contribute at least $7,500 per internship as their portion of the endowment.
  • The Accelerate program is covering up to 75% of funds for up to $15,000 for every four-to-six-month internship.

Eligible Applicants:

The following businesses may be eligible:

  • For-profit corporations and eligible not-for-profit corporations, hospitals, and municipalities within Canada;
  • For-profit corporations outside of Canada; and
  • All sectors investing in research activities.

Review the full list of eligible business applicants to learn more.

The following post-secondary applicants may be eligible:

  • Faculty at all Canadian universities and colleges eligible for Tri-Agency funds,
  • Postdoctoral fellows that were granted PhD’s within five years at all Canadian universities who have not already received the Mitacs Elevate reward,
  • Undergraduate and graduate students currently attending a Mitacs partner university of college,

Review the full list of eligible post-secondary applicants to learn more.

Eligible Activities:

Internships last a four months and projects may last between four months and two years for Undergraduates and Masters students or up to three years for PhDs and Post-Doctoral Fellows. Companies should note that they will retain the same grad student for the entirety of the project’s duration. The following activities may be eligible:

  • Internship costs for research and developing tools, models, technology,
  • Solutions to support the host business’ challenges,

Program Deadline:

Mitacs Accelerate accepts a continuous intake of applications.

Mitacs Elevate Stream

Through the Mitacs Elevate stream, a partnering business receives funding to hire a PhD fellow, ideally for two years, to work on a research project that will have practical benefits for their business and industry (such as autonomous transportation). The PhD fellow will spend approximately 50% of their time at the partnering business and 50% of their time at a Canadian post-secondary institution where they will carry out research and development towards the industry partner’s approved project.

Funding Amount:

  • Elevate allows for an annual project budget of $55,000 for a maximum of $110,000 for two years; and
  • This investment is broken down annually into a $25,000 Mitacs grant and $30,000 contribution from the partnering company.

Eligible Applicants:

The Elevate stream applications are accepted from postdoctoral fellows, businesses, and not-for-profit organizations located in the same province or territory.

Review the full list of eligible business applicants to learn more.

Eligible Activities:

Costs associated with two-year research projects to solve specific industry problems.

Program Deadline:

Bi-annual call for proposals (spring and fall).

Want to Learn More About Collaborative Research Grants?

AVIN, CITM, NSERC, and Mitacs are all great collaborative research programs, and organizations for performing autonomous transportation research. However, there are many more government funding programs for the automotive industry, Software Development industry, and CleanTech industry.

If your AT company is interested in applying for one of these funding programs, reach out to a Mentor Works representative today. For more general funding programs, visit Mentor Work’s comprehensive government funding list.

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