BlackBerry inks deal with Ford to develop in-car software

Waterloo, Ont.-based based BlackBerry will be working directly with Ford Motor Company to provide its QNX software and expand its use across Ford’s future vehicles, the company announced on Monday.

Ford is no stranger to using QNX, the car OS that BlackBerry acquired from Harman International in 2010, using QNX Neutrino OS to power its Sync 3 in-car infotainment system. It was a departure from working with Microsoft, which had provided the under the hood technology powering Sync since its inception with Windows Embedded.

For BlackBerry, it’s one more flag wave in the company’s strategy pivot from hardware and devices to software and security. BlackBerry made clear it wants to be seen as the preferred software that car manufacturers embed as consumer automobiles become increasingly smarter. To back up its contractual agreement with Ford, it’s also providing a team of engineers to help develop QNX for the automaker.

“BlackBerry will dedicate a team to work with Ford to expand the use of QNX Neutrino, QNX hypervisor, and QNX audio processing in their vehicles,” says John Wall, senior vice-president at BlackBerry and head of QNX. The OS “is designed to enable high levels of reliability, safety, and security.”

In signing a contract directly with Ford, BlackBerry has cut out the middleman that would traditionally integrate QNX’s software into the car. QNX software is embedded in 60 million vehicles worldwide because of relationships it’s developed with Tier 1 automotive suppliers that would use its software to power an electronics system of their own design. For example, Panasonic designed the Sync 3 infotainment system currently used in Ford vehicles, featuring QNX.

“The OEMs no longer want to rely on the Tier 1 partners to design the system, but to develop the systems themselves,” Wall says. “Ford is taking our software and is going to be building their systems directly.”

Other OEMs are also showing interest in working directly with software makers, he says, and BlackBerry will probably juggle relationships with both Tier 1 suppliers and OEMs in the near future. Tapping the software directly could mean Ford will use QNX for more modules in its in-car services for drivers.

Those services are likely to go beyond voice calling and understanding the oil levels in your car as Ford announced this summer that it wants to produce autonomous vehicles for urban car-sharing fleets by 2021. As Wall points out in a blog post on BlackBerry’s site, QNX is the only OS on the market certified for autonomous driving systems to be built upon.

Given that cars that drive themselves will have higher security demands, Wall says BlackBerry’s experience in the security area will provide another advantage. Already, he says QNX Neutrino’s OS is designed to separate system processes and system resources so that no one process can overwhelm other critical functions of a car.

“This prevents malware or rogue software from taking over the vehicles,” he says.

When contacted for comment on the partnership, Ford spokesperson Angie Kozleski confirmed with  that Ford signed a contract with BlackBerry. But Ford wouldn’t provide any comment on its product plans for QNX.

When asked why Ford is working directly with BlackBerry rather than a Tier 1 supplier in this case, Kozleski said: “BlackBerry is the supplier we’re working with… we value our relationship with suppliers.”


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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