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BlackBerry Eyes Driverless Car Program in Canada for Growth

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【Summary】What many people don’t know is that BlackBerry has a handful of other products it can rely on for growth.

Original Michael Cheng    Dec 21, 2016 5:45 AM PT
BlackBerry Eyes Driverless Car Program in Canada for Growth

BlackBerry is mostly known for its wildly successful and secure line of smartphones with full QWERTY keyboards. Over the past decade, the company has been on a steady decline, as it looks elsewhere for a second chance at rebuilding its reputation in the highly competitive tech industry. 

What many people don't know is that BlackBerry has a handful of other products it can rely on for growth. It has a series of B2B cloud-based mobile management software for enterprise mobility and QNX, the tech brand's embedded software platform for cars, which is currently being used by Audi, BMW, Buick, GM and Land Rover. The latter is the company's lifeline back to the head of the pack. To streamline its plans, BlackBerry has formed exclusive partnerships with the Canadian government, Ford and other automakers to solidify its position in the nascent driverless car sector.

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Pilot Programs in Ontario

Earlier this year, Blackberry was rumored to be expanding its self-driving efforts in Canada. Not a lot of people knew what the brand was prepare for at the time – until November, when the business announced it was launching a pilot licensing program on public roads in Ontario. It joined two other groups in the program, namely the University of Waterloo's Centre for Automotive Research and Erwin Hymer Group (a German automaker). Like Michigan, the bustling city, known for its harsh winters and inspiring architectural structures, offers new challenges for all three participants. But unlike Michigan, California, Arizona and parts of Texas, where other developers have setup testing, Ontario offers more space (with an area of 415,600 square miles) and longer roads for vehicles to gather data.

"Waterloo's engineering talent, combined with Toronto's academic expertise in machine learning and sizeable presence and investment by major automakers including GM, Toyota and others might also help Ontario press its advantage in the early days of autonomous driving development," said Darrell Etherington from TechCrunch.

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Moves for Disruption

Blackberry is looking to scale its autonomous driving operations quickly, ahead of its competitors. It currently has roughly 5,000 employees, of which 400 are engineers and over 75 percent based around Ottawa. The company recently mentioned that it plans to pump in over $75 million in the BlackBerry QNX Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Center (AVIC) – a driverless testing facility. It is important to consider that the establishment is not developing autonomous code for self-driving vehicles, like NVIDIA and nuTonomy. Instead, BlackBerry is focusing on the foundational platform and framework for such systems.

The tech giant isn't expanding in Canada alone. One of its biggest rivals in the sector, Apple, also has a facility setup in Ottawa. The Cupertino-based brand is building a similar platform for cars to use, but the business lacks experience in the auto industry. Apple's Canadian office is all that is currently left after it shut down Project Titan.

In the Ottawa facility, BlackBerry is working closely with middleware supplier PolySync and semiconductor company Renesas Electronics Corp., to further develop its platform for driverless vehicles.

"The future of the automobile is all about embedded intelligence. I believe our expertise in secure embedded software makes us the preferred technology provider to put the smart in the car," said John Chen, chief executive officer at BlackBerry.  

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