BlackBerry & Virginia Tech Want Students Developing Autonomous Apps on QNX

BlackBerry is teaming up with Virginia Tech’s Department of Mechanical Engineering to train students on the company’s QNX software, in order to help develop new applications for connected and autonomous vehicles.

The QNX platform is already used in car infotainment systems, and BlackBerry can boast of partnerships with Jaguar Land Rover, as well as Nvidia and Qualcomm, with the chip makers designing systems featuring embedded QNX architecture.

The architecture’s hallmark is BlackBerry Secure, which the company calls an “enterprise of things platform” comprising safety-certified applications built to protect hardware, software and applications from cyber attacks.

“As the world advances towards a driverless future, the need for engineers who specialize in safety-certified software has never been more important,” Grant Courville, vice president of BlackBerry QNX product management at BlackBerry, wrote in a statement.

BlackBerry has also provided its QNX technology for use in Virginia Tech’s autonomous vehicle concept cars, which are competing in the international AutoDrive Challenge under the Team Victor Tango banner.

The AutoDrive Challenge, sponsored by General Motors and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), is a three-year AV design competition to develop and demonstrate a fully autonomous passenger vehicle.

The competition’s technical goal is navigating an urban driving course in an automated driving mode as described by SAE Standard (J3016) level 4 definition by the third year. Virginia Tech is one of eight universities competing.

The university is training students in all aspects of connected and AV engineering and development, including mechatronics, computer vision, robot motion planning and machine learning.

“It is important that our students know what’s happening on the front lines of the connected and autonomous vehicle industry and our partnership with BlackBerry helps by giving them access to the latest automotive-grade software,” Al Wicks, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, said in a statement.

The QNX platform offers a broad portfolio of software applications, including in-car network security and advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) use cases.

As semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles reach the market, security is seen as a paramount concern for OEMs and regulators — research indicates there’s much work to be done on the security front.

Earlier this year, Virginia Tech researchers built a low-cost, handheld spoofing device out of a Raspberry Pi platform that could be planted inside a targeted car or operated from a following car.

It fed incorrect locations to GPS receivers, making navigation systems direct drivers to the wrong places. The team reported most drivers never noticed that their surroundings didn’t match where they were supposed to be.

While the study was quite small, involving just 40 participants in the US and China, it hints at how easy it might be to lure self-driving cars with unsecure software into dangerous situations.

BlackBerry started 2018 off with a bang when it inked a deal with Chinese Internet giant Baidu to jointly develop self-driving car technology. Specifically, the QNX operating system will serve as the bedrock that Apollo is built on.

Baidu is developing a modular, open source AV platform called Apollo that will allow automakers and Tier 1 suppliers to custom-select the features in self-driving technology

Earlier this week BlackBerry announced an expansion of its partnerships with Android and PLDT Enterprise to provide MiCab, an online taxi-hailing platform based in the Philippines, with an integrated, secure enterprise cloud platform that maintains data privacy.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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