When BlackBerry QNX opened its Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Centre (AVIC) in Ottawa, Ontario in December, 2016 it made headlines at home and abroad.
The company, renowned worldwide for its software security, announced it was taking aim at the market for embedded intelligence in the cars of the future.
“We intend to dominate that market and we have the foundational technology needed to achieve it,” says John Wall, senior vice president and head of BlackBerry QNX.
Wall isn’t alone in thinking BlackBerry QNX will end up in the driver’s seat. Many industry analysts agree.
In an interview with Thomson Reuters, Sam Fiorani, an analyst at Auto Forecast Solutions, said, “If they can prove that they have the whole package and the security, they could absolutely dominate the market.”
Best in class at CES 2017
BlackBerry QNX’s leadership was on display less than a month later at the 2017 International CES in Las Vegas. The company unveiled a new operating system (OS), which it demonstrated it in its autonomous Lincoln MKZ and Jaguar XJ concept cars. The new OS consolidates currently separate, under-the-hood functions including infotainment and digital instrument clusters, while simultaneously guarding against system malfunctions, malware and cyberattacks.
“The software designed car is evolving at lightning speed,” says Grant Courville, senior director of product management for BlackBerry QNX. “The pressure is on, but we have so many advantages over the competition, starting with the fact that we got into the game early. We’ve been developing automotive software systems for 20 years – our software is in more than 240 models and over 60 million cars today – and as a result, we’ve got a well-established track record with all the major car companies.”
Adds Wall, “We believe that the carmakers are going to want to own this technology themselves. It’s as important as a transmission or a chassis. There are billions of dollars at stake, so our technology, together with our automotive pedigree, gives us a definite leg-up.”
BlackBerry QNX, in partnership with Renesas (the world's number one microcontroller supplier) and the University of Waterloo, has already tested vehicles with autonomous features in Stratford, Ontario’s first live test bed for self-driving cars.
Ontario: the perfect test bed for autonomous vehicle technology
Both Wall and Courville say BlackBerry QNX’s location in Ontario has been critical to its success.
“We have a well-established and robust automotive industry. Ontario’s auto corridor is home to major OEMs as well as 700-plus parts manufacturers and it’s also close to Detroit where a lot of the decisions are made,” says Wall.
The Ontario government has been an important factor as well.
“The government understands where – and how quickly – the auto industry is heading and knows that Ontario can provide the brains behind autonomous car technology. It has been very supportive, from providing generous R&D tax credits to helping publicize made-in-Ontario technologies.”
Still, the number one reason BlackBerry QNX is so happy to be located in Ontario is access to talent.
“In our business, talent is paramount,” says Courville. “We need problem solvers who have different sets of software and system engineering skills.”
With Ontario universities producing a large number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), artificial intelligence and IT grads, BlackBerry QNX can recruit many of its best and brightest problem solvers in its own back yard.
What’s more, adds Wall, “Our universities quickly recognized that autonomous vehicle technology was going to be the hottest thing on the planet and reached out to us to find out how their curricula and research could best align with what we will need going forward.”
Thanks to the federal government’s favourable immigration policies, BlackBerry QNX also has access to superlative global talent, attracted by the company’s reputation as the leader in its field.
“We have employees from all over the world,” says Wall. “The only criteria that matters to us is ability and the desire to do what it takes to stay on top.”
In the red-hot race to produce the first truly autonomous car, BlackBerry QNX is turning up the volume on what it’s doing to develop its mission-critical software.
“Investing $100 million over the next three to five years in our Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Centre is just the start,” says Wall. “Stay tuned for more announcements.”