A Canadian first: Self-driving vehicle circles University of Waterloo campus

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Waterloo, Ontario
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Two University of Waterloo engineering students completed an Enterprise Co-op term by creating the first autonomous vehicle to drive on a Canadian road.

Michael Skupien and Alex Rodrigues, founders of Varden Labs, developed the autonomous shuttle during an e-co-op term, a signature program run through Waterloo’s Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and TechnologyCentre. In e-co-op, students launch businesses while earning a co-operative education credit. Both Skupien and Rodrigues completed their e-co-op term as second-year students in Waterloo’s Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering program. 

Varden Labs won $35,000 at the Spring 2015 Velocity Fund Finals and both Rodrigues and Skupien lived in the Velocity Residence, a dorm for Waterloo students who are building companies. The team members hope their technology will power fully autonomous electric shuttles that can be used on university campuses, corporate campuses and in retirement communities around the world.

“We’ve been in the Velocity program for more than a year now and it’s been an amazing experience,” said Rodrigues. “Over time, experiences, connections and interactions have helped us do amazing things as entrepreneurs.” 

Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo, was the first passenger in the milestone ride around campus held on Tuesday August 18, 2015.

“I am so pleased for these bright, ambitious students as they take this next important step in the development of their impressive invention,” said Hamdullahpur. “Waterloo encourages this kind of innovative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit, and so it is thrilling for us when we can witness students like Alex and Michael embark on their own exciting journey. I liked riding in their vehicle so much that I wish I had one for facing traffic on the 401 to Toronto.” 

Varden Labs has since spent some time with the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator, during which they refined their prototype, a converted golf cart.