On Friday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government will be providing a $40 million grant to help BlackBerry Ltd. develop new software for the vehicles of the future.
Trudeau was at BlackBerry’s QNX division in Ottawa alongside CEO John Chen for the announcement, touting the 800 jobs expected to be created at the company’s Ottawa campus.
But BlackBerry is hoping that the project will have a bigger impact than that: it wants to become the essential software platform for future connected cars, something on which an entire ecosystem of applications could eventually be based.
QNX software is already in the infotainment systems of more than 120 million cars, including such brands as Toyota, Audi, Jaguar and Ford.
While there are numerous other simple systems embedded in cars, most are currently independent of each other.
“In today’s vehicle you have up to hundreds of electronic control units (ECUs) and they’re all separate. So, for instance, if you have automatic braking in your vehicle, that’s an ECU.… If you have automatic door locks, that’s an ECU,” John Wall, head of the QNX division, said.
“The car of the future is going to be a consolidation of these functions on what we call a high-performance computer platform.”
BlackBerry sees itself as ideally positioned to build this platform, not only because QNX is already in millions of cars, but because the company has a strong reputation for efficient, reliable and secure software.
“The best analogy I can make is, think of the smartphone. Way back when, Blackberry had their ecosystem, Apple had their ecosystem, Nokia had their ecosystem. Eventually it collapsed down to Android and iOS,” he said.
BlackBerry currently employs about 2,000 people across Canada, and the $40 million grant from the government is expected to create the new jobs over 10 years.
The cars of the future are bound to be not only autonomous but connected to one another, communicating between them to make our roads safer.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
In addition to the government money, BlackBerry is committing to invest $310.5 million in the vehicle software development project, and at Friday’s announcement, both Chen and Trudeau talked about the apprenticeship opportunities that will train more people for technology jobs.
BlackBerry also committed to spending $5 million on partnerships with academic, private sector and government organizations on cybersecurity work, as part of the overall project.
Playing off its reputation for reliability and security, BlackBerry also recently announced a smart cities certificate system, which aims to create a trusted way for connected cars, traffic lights and other urban infrastructure to communicate.
The idea of building an operating system for the car also ties in with the future of autonomous vehicles — something QNX is also testing, and something that Trudeau mentioned at Friday’s announcement.
“The cars of the future are bound to be not only autonomous but connected to one another, communicating between them to make our roads safer. For a global leader like QNX, this represents an unprecedented opportunity for growth,” Trudeau said.
“The race for the top spot in the new economy has already begun, and if we want to see Canadians take the lead, we need to have their backs.”