BlackBerry Investing Heavily In Smart Car Technology

BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) is opening an autonomous driving research center to develop advanced driver assistance and autonomous vehicle technology. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will attend the launch by the Waterloo, Ontario-based company. BlackBerry has remained tight-lipped regarding exact details of the new center. The facility is said to be developing advanced driving features like automatic emergency breaking, intelligent cruise, and complete driving autonomy.

The new R&D facility is an extension of Blackberry’s existing QNX operations in the region. QNX develops software for multiple in-car infotainment systems and already powers infotainment and telematics systems in millions of cars. BlackBerry purchased QNX in 2010 and QNX software became the foundation of the BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system.

The facility will let BlackBerry begin testing cars with autonomous features in Ontario. Only three organizations have received clearance from the government of Ontario to test self-driving vehicles on public roads. Blackberry is one of them, getting the green light late last month.

For testing, the company will use Lincoln vehicles from Ford retrofitted with autonomous hardware and software. The company has also signed a deal to work directly with Ford Motor Co. on self-driving ridesharing vehicles, aiming to bring them to the public by 2021. Neither BlackBerry nor Ford have been specific about their work together just yet. Similar partnerships are reportedly underway with several other automakers.

BlackBerry is betting its future on the self-driving car business. The former smartphone powerhouse wants to be an instrumental part of the coming smart car revolution. BlackBerry rose to prominence with its square-shaped phones and their signature physical keyboard, which quickly became a business staple. The company has said that it’s no longer in the mobile business, although one final phone will be made available.

BlackBerry is going to face a lot of competition in the self-driving car space. Early this year, Apple also opened an R&D facility in QNX’s hometown of Kanata. There has been speculation that the offices could be for the development of its own autonomous car systems. Its Apple Car team is reportedly focusing on autonomous systems rather than a completely autonomous vehicle design. There is also the challenge from chipmakers such as Intel Corp., who can afford to lose a lot of money on their own security and safety software in their pursuit of adoption and market share.