BlackBerry Opens self-driving Car Research Centre
TORONTO—BlackBerry Ltd. and the Canadian government are opening a research centre for self-driving cars that raises the possibility of government backing for the former smartphone maker’s automotive software unit.
Chief executive officer John Chen and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the centre at QNX’s headquarters near Ottawa, where it will be based. BlackBerry’s QNX unit has been building software to run in-car entertainment systems for years. In January of this year, the company said it was working to get automakers to use its programs to run self-driving features as well in a bid to keep its products central to the evolution of car technology.
The program doesn’t include any federal funding at this point, but it could in the future, QNX head John Wall said. Canadian governments already give hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to traditional automakers, and this deal could open the door for similar arrangements focused on technology and software, Wall said.
BlackBerry says it will spend about $100 million developing secure software, hoping to make itself indispensable for the burgeoning self-driving vehicle market. Chen says he doesn’t expect significant public investment in the venture.
QNX, which BlackBerry bought in 2010, is a 35-year-old company that builds highly specialized operating systems for everything from wind turbines to anti-tank missiles. About two dozen employees have been hired by Apple Inc. for their own vehicle operating system project, including QNX founder Dan Dodge, people familiar with the matter have said. The Silicon Valley tech giant even placed an office a stone’s throw away from QNX’s headquarters to house the project.
The mass exodus didn’t hurt QNX’s long-term plans, Wall said. The unit has around 400 engineers and is actively hiring new ones to work on vehicle software, he said.
Chen said he expects Blackberry QNX will hire more than 600 highly paid software developers and other new employees over the next few years, housing them in the firm’s suburban Ottawa headquarters.
That’s welcome news for Trudeau’s Liberal government, which has been banking on the creation of such jobs to bolster the dampened economy.
“Blackberry is helping to establish our country as the global leader in software and security for connected car and autonomous vehicle development,” Trudeau said after touring a garage where engineers worked on computer systems for Jeep, Lincoln and Mercedes vehicles.
BlackBerry QNX and a research team at the University of Waterloo got the go-ahead late last month to test Lincoln vehicles with autonomous features on Ontario roads.
The company has also signed on with Ford to help get fleets of driverless, ride-sharing vehicles to market by 2021.
QNX isn’t building an algorithm that would actually be able to drive a car. Instead, it’s focusing on the underlying operating system that other companies could build applications on top of. The space is crowded, though. Apple is building its own system and QNX competes with other little-known companies including Green Hills Software and Intel Corp.-owned Wind River to build operating systems tailored to specific tasks.
With files from The Canadian Press