BlackBerry launches software innovation centre for autonomous vehicles

BlackBerry, once known for its mobile handsets, is betting its future on the business of making software for not just mobile devices, but also autonomous vehicles.

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The BlackBerry QNX Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Centre

BlackBerry has announced the opening of its $100 million innovation centre aimed at developing software for autonomous and connected vehicles, a move that will also see the company more than double staff at its Ottawa, Ontario headquarters where the centre is located.

The BlackBerry QNX Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Centre, launched on Monday by BlackBerry CEO John Chen and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is part of the company's strategy to make itself a player in the autonomous vehicles industry before it gains mainstream appeal.

"50 percent of all cars will connect to the cloud by 2020 ... in the coming hyper-connected world, cars will soon carry one of the highest concentrations of Internet of Things edge nodes and sensors, generating a vast amount of valuable and actionable data," the company said in an announcement.

"Anticipating this shift, BlackBerry is investing in key technologies and building a product portfolio that will provide the embedded intelligence that powers the core electronics of connected and autonomous cars."

As part of the initiative, BlackBerry QNX will be recruiting local software engineers to work on ongoing and emerging engineering projects for autonomous and connected vehicles both independently and in partnership with public and private sector organisations.

QNX's current Ottawa headcount stands at around 400 people, with up to 650 people to be added.

QNX has been supplying embedded software to the automotive industry for more than 10 years. Its efforts span a number of vehicle systems, including infotainment, telematics, digital instrument clusters, and communication authentication.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario approved BlackBerry QNX to test autonomous vehicles -- specifically the 2017 Ford Lincoln -- on Ontario roads as part of a pilot program.

One of the innovation centre's first projects will be supporting the pilot as well as BlackBerry QNX's work with the University of Waterloo, PolySync, and Renesas Electronics to build an autonomous concept vehicle.

The Ottawa innovation centre is not BlackBerry's first step into the realm of autonomous vehicles. In recent years, the company has been developing object recognition technology so that cars can respond to stop signs and recognise adjacent lanes. The company is also looking to enable cars to communicate with driving infrastructure as well as other cars on the road.

In October, the company signed an agreement with Ford Motor Company that will see tighter integration with QNX inside some of Ford's upcoming connected vehicles. The platform has a strong bent on security and is considered one of BlackBerry's crown jewels, especially as the company pivots from hardware to software. The deal was the first to cut out the middleperson between BlackBerry and an automaker.

However, BlackBerry recently lost leading members of the QNX team including former founder and CEO of QNX Dan Dodge, who joined Apple at its new Kanata location.

Last Friday, BlackBerry and TCL Communication, a subsidiary of Chinese multinational electronics company TCL Corporation, announced on Friday a long-term global licensing agreement that will see TCL design, manufacture, sell, and support all future BlackBerry mobile devices globally, with the exception of India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.

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