BlackBerry Works out of the Limelight towards Better Business

The tech world is full of “pivots” in which a company mostly, or even entirely, changes its business focus.

One of the more fascinating pivots in the connected car world is that of BlackBerry. Famous in the 1990s as a provider of pre-smartphone, handheld email devices, the company fell on hard times before buying in-car tech specialist QNX in 2010. These days, the renamed BlackBerry QNX unit of the parent company is quite the player in the ADAS market and it has made its parent company relevant again.

As such, the unit’s management has a good birds-eye view of the state of the industry. Recently, TU-Automotive interviewed BlackBerry QNX’s vice-president of products and strategy Grant Courville to gauge how he and his team see the market at present.

Right now, from what you’re observing, what are the top needs and wants of automaker and other clients trying to implement in-car solutions?

“The connected car market is set for some serious momentum over the next few years with demand for all of the associated technologies. Think internet access, new digital cockpit systems, over-the-air (OTA) software delivery, advanced safety functions and other advanced technology-based features rising at a significant pace.

“The world’s leading OEMs, their Tier 1 suppliers, chip manufacturers, and new start-ups are looking for safety-certified and secure software on which they can build the next generation of cars. While the supply chain is being disrupted, there is tremendous desire by OEMs and others to provide more value, on an ongoing basis, to the consumer and to realize direct or indirect financial benefits from this. This value is primarily driven through software and ubiquitous connectivity to the vehicle. There are also proactive investments globally to re-imagine automotive system and network architectures to realize the software defined vehicle (SDV).”

Looking forward, how do you see those needs and wants changing in the short- and medium-term?

“In addition to connectedness, OEMs are also prioritizing sustainability to cater to consumers’ increasing demand for EVs. This will be where the real competition, and innovation, is going to be for vehicles over the next 5-10 years with software being a critical innovation enabler

“EVs are clearly the future and the sector will provide a growing opportunity. Currently EVs only represent 1% of global car use but we anticipate a large population who will likely be purchasing over the next decade.”

Even the most sophisticated in-car system won’t be able to function without the infrastructure (road, traffic sign/light, etc.) to support it. What’s the current state of this technology and is it sufficient or will it be soon?

“V2X rollouts have been slower to gain traction due to regulatory uncertainty. Automakers, regulators and governments must come together to make this a priority and to invest in connected vehicle and infrastructure to make this a reality. The actions by the FCC [the US telecoms regulator] to open up the 5.9 spectrum to non-safety/non-transportation related data has slowed this process.

“This is lifesaving technology that can provide data to a driver or automated system and prevent accidents, identify pedestrians, divert traffic from a natural disaster, and get an ambulance to a hospital faster.”

Do you feel that the popular in-car systems in use today solutions, and the ones being developed, are secure enough? Is this a problem in the industry?

“Safety is the mission-critical part of the automotive software system. Functional safety is now an extremely important part of cars, both in protecting lives and property and creating a competitive advantage for OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. It’s no longer just about the safety of the vehicles, but about the safety of the software on which they run.

“Despite its mission-critical nature, software is not a well-understood part of functional safety. To keep safety intact, we need ways to monitor the software to make sure that it does, in fact, keep drivers safe while reducing liability for OEMs. While focusing on improving the quality of the systems behind the wheel sounds simple, automotive software safety and functionality is a highly specialized field. It often depends on the correct operation of software-based systems built from many different components.”

In the 1990s, BlackBerry was very famous among the general public. Do you aim to reach a similar level of renown with in-car ADAS solutions?

“What is different this time around is that we are not building the end device. Our role is to provide the core foundational software and expertise to enable our customers to build the safest and most reliable vehicles for decades to come. The OEMs will own the brand experience and the relationship with the customer.

“At the business level, we have seen a significant increase in the proportion of our QNX business from safety-critical foundational software, such as ADAS, digital cockpits and autonomous driving over the last few years. This now constitutes the largest part of our total business.”

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