Ontario-based BlackBerry appeared at the North American International Automotive Show in Detroit for the first time ever in January 2018. The former smartphone manufacturer, renowned worldwide for its software security, used the opportunity to introduce BlackBerry Jarvis, its game-changing cybersecurity product.

Built on BlackBerry's decades of cybersecurity expertise and proprietary technology, Jarvis can inspect millions of lines of software code and deliver precise actionable insights in minutes – a fraction of the time it would take a team of security engineers.

"A modern car has more than 100 million lines of software," explains Grant Courville, vice president of product management for BlackBerry QNX, the group responsible for BlackBerry's automotive software solutions. "As the software in a car grows, the attack surface grows as well, making it more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

"Add to that the fact that automotive software is built by multiple tiers of suppliers and there are no established security standards, and you start to see how challenging security is for automakers."

Offered on a pay-as-you-go basis, BlackBerry Jarvis is customized for the unique needs of each OEM and its entire software supply chain – and the innovative product generated a great deal of excitement at NAIAS. The company has already started trials with several major automakers, including Jaguar Land Rover, and the reviews have been stellar.

BlackBerry offers an end-to-end secure software platform for the autonomous and connected car

A car interior showing the steering wheel and the instrument panel or cockpit controller.
The BlackBerry Lincoln MKZ test car features a cockpit controller with multiple technologies that raise the bar for security and performance.

And Jarvis is just one innovative product released by BlackBerry in the past twelve months. In fact, the company, whose software is found in 240+ vehicle models in over 60 million cars worldwide, is steadily – and quickly -- broadening what it offers, developing software that will be needed for everything from advanced driver-assistance systems to system consolidation.

"We can't, and won't, let up on the accelerator," says Courville, who notes the company continues to invest heavily in its Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Centre in Ottawa to accelerate its technology.

"We intend to dominate the market and be the leading software platform for the connected and autonomous car of the future. We've got a substantial head start on the competition – we've been developing automotive software systems for more than 20 years – so we have the foundational technology we need to be successful."

Many of the biggest players in the CV/AV arena seem to agree. In the last year alone, BlackBerry has inked deals with Baidu, Delphi (Aptiv), DENSO, NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Visteon. Ford has been a customer for some time.

Ontario provides the ideal testing ground for self-driving cars

Both BlackBerry and QNX, the software superstar it bought in 2010, got their start in Ontario – and being headquartered in the province has been critical to the company's success, says Courville.

In an industry where it all comes down to talent, Ontario is flush with it. Each year, the province's well-regarded universities produce 40,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), grads, as well as thousands more in IT and artificial intelligence, problems solvers with the right sets of skills to develop the mission critical software that has put BlackBerry in the driver's seat.

An aerial view showing people clustered around a car at an intersection.
Thousands of people turned out to watch BlackBerry conduct the first on-street test of one of its self-driving cars.

"We have a terrific working relationship with our universities," says Courville. "They have reached out to us to find out how their curricula and research could best align with what we, and the industry, will need going forward. We meet with them on a regular basis as the demands evolve."

Foreign talent is also beating a path to BlackBerry's door, drawn by the company's reputation, and the federal government's favourable immigration policies.

"Talent migrates to where the action is," says Courville, "and we're the leader in this sphere, so we're able to recruit the best and brightest from all over the world."

The Ontario government has also played an instrumental role.

"The government understands where the auto industry is heading and knows that Ontario can supply the brains behind autonomous car technology."

In addition to providing some of the best R&D tax credits in the world and helpful programs like the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN), Ontario allows testing of autonomous vehicles in live, on-road conditions. On any given day, BlackBerry QNX-equipped self-driving cars are on the road near the company's Ottawa development centre. There's also a live test bed for self-driving cars in Stratford and BlackBerry has taken advantage of it as well.

Finally, to ensure the talent pipeline grows, in October, 2017, the government announced plans to increase the number of STEM grads by 25 per cent over the next five years, and to accelerate the number of applied masters' graduates in artificial intelligence.

The conditions are right for BlackBerry and as Courville says, "We're firing on all cylinders."

Sector/subsector: 

May 4, 2018

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