BlackBerry Ltd said on Wednesday it has developed new software for running complex computer systems on vehicles, giving the once dominant smartphone maker a leg up in a burgeoning segment of the technology market.
The company declined to name any automakers who plan to use the technology, but senior BlackBerry executive John Wall said “multiple” car companies have started incorporating it into onboard computer systems of vehicles that are currently in development.
BlackBerry touted the product, the QNX Hypervisor 2.0, as a way to make vehicles more secure from hacking, saying it can isolate multiple systems to run on a single piece of silicon, allowing them to isolate functions critical to safety from systems that are exposed to wireless networks.
“Think of a house, and a burglar getting into a room. So even if the burglar does get into that room, the door is locked, he can’t get out of that room. And even if he can get into the hallway, the other rooms are locked,” Wall, the head of BlackBerry’s QNX division said in a teleconference with reporters.
QNX has a strong position in the market for internet-connected car infotainment systems, and is looking to boost sales by expanding into more of the vehicle.
The automotive industry is one of the fastest-growing segments of the technology market, as automakers race to add more autonomous features and ultimately seek to build self-driving cars.
Qualcomm Inc said the new hypervisor is compatible with its Snapdragon 820Am automotive processor, enabling carmakers to reduce hardware complexity and costs by putting multiple systems on a single platform.
BlackBerry shares were little changed in morning trade. They have soared about 63 percent since late March on hopes for high sales growth from QNX and other relatively new products.
BlackBerry Ltd.’s QNX automotive software, used in more than 60 million cars, was listed as a potential target for the Central Intelligence Agency to hack, according to documents released by WikiLeaks.
CIA meeting notes mention QNX as one of several “potential mission areas” for the organization’s Embedded Devices Branch. The same branch also worked with U.K. spy agencies to develop tools to break into Apple iPhones, Google’s Android system and Samsung smart TVs, according to some of the 8,761 documents WikiLeaks posted Tuesday.
The meeting notes that mention QNX, dated Oct. 23, 2014, said the company hadn’t yet been “addressed” by the branch’s work. The documents don’t say if the CIA ever moved forward with QNX as a hacking target.
Read more: TVs, phones, computers: The details in the WikiLeaks release on CIA hacking
Spokeswomen for BlackBerry and QNX did not respond to requests for comment.
QNX has become a core part of BlackBerry’s pitch to investors as phone sales disappear and the company pivots toward software. The unit makes highly specialized operating systems for industrial products ranging from wind turbines to anti-tank missiles, but its most important product is in-car infotainment systems. More recently, BlackBerry has touted its software as ripe for the development of self-driving features and the fully autonomous cars of the future.
The Canadian company has also been leaning heavily on its reputation for security, positioning itself as the safest choice in a world where corporations and governments are flooded by hacking attempts. When security researchers showed how they could hack into a Jeep, taking control away from the driver while on the highway, BlackBerry was quick to say its tech wasn’t involved in the breach.
That hack led to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV recalling 1.4 million cars and trucks – the first auto recall prompted by hacking fears.
Multinational car company Ford has hired 400 developers from BlackBerry for its connected cars, shortly after announcing the building of its own data centre.
The Ottawa Sun newspaper reported that a previously announced “agreement” actually amounted to a transfer of 400 heads between companies.
Last month, Ford announced it was building a $200m data centre in Detroit, Michigan, at a rough cost of $1m per petabyte.
“Connectivity is the critical component of the future of mobility,” said Ford CTO Raj Nair in a statement. “By more than doubling our connectivity talent and establishing a research center, we can innovate faster and deliver more software and services to exceed our customers’ expectations.”
Meanwhile, around 650 folk will join BlackBerry’s new self-driving car R&D center in Ottawa, which was announced in December.
All of this forms part of both BlackBerry’s and Ford’s strategies to get into software. Modern cars are packed to the brim with onboard diagnostics and telematics, as well as infotainment systems. He who supplies the software for that sort of thing has cornered a lucrative market, as BlackBerry QNX is quietly doing with a good deal of success.
Equally, he who keeps his R&D and development in-house is probably saving a small but significant amount of time and effort, particularly when it comes to IP licensing. ®
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