BlackBerry may have surrendered an early lead in smartphones to Apple and Google, but it remains a market leader in cars thanks to subsidiary QNX, whose operating system runs in roughly half the in-car infotainment systems sold today.
This year, QNX notched a huge victory by delivering the underlying software for the latest version of Ford Motor Co.'s Sync system.
Now, the division that operates QNX, known as BlackBerry Technology Solutions, is broadening its portfolio of automotive offerings to include over-the-air software updates and back-end software for automated driving.
Derek Kuhn, 45, vice president of sales at BlackBerry Technology Solutions, spoke with Staff Reporter Gabe Nelson last month.
Q: QNX emphasizes the dependability and security of its operating system. What have the recent revelations about car hacking meant for you?
A: Things like the Jeep hack have finally emphasized what we've been evangelizing for many years. Security is not a product, it's a process, and it's something that we at BlackBerry know very well. ...
I will admit to you: In the automotive space, it was difficult to get interest in security discussions 18 months ago, two years ago. These days, it's far less difficult.
Why was it so difficult?
Some of our Tier 1 and automaker customers really understood, but in some circles, when we were speaking at events, people called us "alarmist." That's a direct quote. We were being told by the industry: "Yeah, we understand where you're coming from, but it's not a big deal." Well, we think it is a big deal.
What role will QNX play in autonomous driving?
I'm personally addicted to the idea of autonomous vehicles. I've tried to work with our entire team to make sure that we're at the very forefront of what's happening in this space. We've been working with military groups for autonomous vehicles for many, many years, whether they fly, swim or walk, so this is something that QNX has a tremendous amount of experience with.
So a self-driving car could run on QNX?
We're getting more interest in what I'd call piloted driving. I think you'll see QNX in a lot of driver safety systems that are coming up, and we're focused on winning business in that area more than we ever have before.
We're also developing middleware that could also lead to more advanced systems. Our business is providing the Tier 1 community with building blocks. We're trying to take the pain away. [Our role is] taking the input from many systems -- cameras, machine vision, ultrasonic sensors, radar, lidar -- and making all those systems come together in a seamless way.
QNX changed hands a couple of times in the last decade, and BlackBerry doesn't have the market strength it had in 2010. Is QNX for sale?
Absolutely not, as far as I know.
We're in a process where BlackBerry's leadership is pressuring folks like me to grow the business. We are hiring people, we are winning more and more, and we are looking to grow even more. We're really working to advance our software and services on the [Internet of Things] side. We've developed a complete connected-car system for the auto industry.
What does that Internet of Things service entail?
We're offering over-the-air updates and data collection with analytics, and we're doing remote diagnostics services as well.
Who's the competition there?
There are a lot of different companies that are offering pieces. [Harman's new acquisition] Red Bend offers a version of software updates, for example. There are others as well. BlackBerry is offering something that's completely end to end.