ATA, Ont. _ BlackBerry says it will spend about $100 million developing secure software, hoping to make itself indispensable for the burgeoning self-driving vehicle market.
The company’s QNX division, based in Ottawa, has formally opened a research centre for autonomous cars that Blackberry CEO John Chen says could position the firm to sell its software to the entire automotive industry.
While the opening of the centre raises the possibility of government funding for the former smartphone maker, Chen says he doesn’t expect significant public investment in the venture.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was on hand for the announcement, didn’t mention government sponsorship for the centre.
Chen says he expects Blackberry QNX will hire more than 600 highly paid software developers and other new employees over the next few years, housing them in the firm’s suburban Ottawa headquarters.
That’s welcome news for Trudeau’s Liberal government, which has been banking on the creation of such jobs to bolster the dampened economy.
“Blackberry is helping to establish our country as the global leader in software and security for connected car and autonomous vehicle development,” Trudeau said after touring a garage where engineers worked on computer systems for Jeep, Lincoln and Mercedes vehicles.
BlackBerry QNX earlier this year said it was in talks with several automakers, hoping they would use its programs to operate self-driving features in vehicles.
QNX, which BlackBerry bought in 2010, currently employs around 400 engineers in Ottawa and is actively hiring new software developers.
While QNX competes with other little-known companies including Green Hills Software and Wind River to build operating systems, it could face stiff competition soon from Apple, which is building its own system for autonomous vehicles.
Chen said he was confident about his company’s prospects.
“Our innovation track record in mobile security and our demonstrated leadership in automotive software make us ideally suited to dominate the market for embedded intelligence in the cars of the future,” he said.
BlackBerry QNX and a research team at the University of Waterloo got the go-ahead late last month to test Lincoln vehicles with autonomous features on Ontario roads.
The company has also signed on with Ford to help get fleets of driverless, ride-sharing vehicles to market by 2021.