Blackberry invests in driverless cars

BlackberryTroubled BlackBerry is going to write a cheque  for $75 million to invest in a new autonomous vehicle testing hub over several years.

The company’s chief executive John Chen  said the smartphone pioneer was looking  elsewhere for growth and most of its cash was going on engineering jobs.

The company, which is racing to increase software sales as its handset unit and related legacy service access fees shrink, hopes to make itself indispensable in the automotive industry’s looming self-driving arms race.

BlackBerry is hoping its security and safety credentials help it win a seat at the table as an array of automakers, chip and sensor providers and software developers work in competitive co-operation to bring self-driving cars to the mass market.

BlackBerry will initially work with middleware supplier PolySync and semiconductor company Renesas, as well as its hometown University of Waterloo on its autonomous driving project, but hopes to welcome more companies to its Ottawa facility.

The company’s QNX unit, renamed BlackBerry QNX, currently employs around 400 engineers, some three-quarters of them at its facility in Kanata on the outskirts of Ottawa.

BlackBerry has about 5,000 employees in total.

The embedded operating system market is likely to grow quickly as autonomous driving takes off,  but BlackBerry faces numerous competitive threats, including from independent embedded operating system producer Green Hills Software as well as chipmakers such as Intel.