Techopia Year in Review: BlackBerry QNX leads Ottawa’s road to becoming an autonomous vehicle hub

BlackBerry QNX conducted the first on-road autonomous vehicle test in Canada in October.

Coming off a massive investment from its parent company late last year, automotive software developer BlackBerry QNX was primed for a strong 2017. The Kanata-based firm delivered, bringing an automotive giant to Ottawa and rolling out the first self-driving car on Canadian roads, leading the city closer to its status as a hub for autonomous vehicles.

BlackBerry QNX builds software platforms for the cockpit of the car, typically referred to as infotainment systems. In more recent years, the automotive arm of BlackBerry has turned to sensors and autonomous driving capabilities, outfitting test vehicles in its Kanata garage with its tech.

BlackBerry clearly thinks its Ottawa workers are doing a good job with this. Late last year it threw $100 million at its QNX division to establish an Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Centre and hire an extra 650 employees.

The Waterloo parent isn’t the only one that noticed BlackBerry QNX talent has a knack for autonomous vehicle development. Ford Motors must’ve caught wind of it too.

The Detroit car manufacturer put its money on BlackBerry QNX technology with its announcement in April that it would spend $337.9 million to create an R&D outpost in Ottawa, absorbing 300 former BlackBerry employees in the process.

“Ford is basically getting into the QNX business,” automotive analyst Roger Lanctot told OBJ in April.

One of America’s largest car companies moving in next door was a clear win for BlackBerry QNX, but the firm still has its competitors – some in its very neighbourhood.

Take Wind River, for example. The Kanata firm is one of the developers behind Automotive Grade Linux, an open-source infotainment alternative to BlackBerry QNX.

Toyota chose the Linux solution over QNX for its 2018 Camry earlier this year. Analysts say QNX’s market share in infotainment is waning, with Linux coming up fast.

But in Ottawa, there’s a clear leader of the pack. It was BlackBerry QNX that, in October, conducted the first on-road autonomous vehicle test in Canada on Legget Drive.

Politicians have flocked to BlackBerry QNX as well as a backdrop for policy announcements and photo ops: Navdeep Bains, minister of science, innovation and economic development, unveiled the federal government’s superclusters program in the QNX garage; Kathleen Wynne took a spin around the parking lot with BlackBerry CEO John Chen, QNX head John Wall and Kanata North Business Association then-executive director Jenna Sudds in July.

Sudds has been among those championing Ottawa as a hotspot for autonomous vehicle software development. At the on-road test a few months back, she noted more than 70 companies in the city are developing connected car technology.

“This critical mass of expertise and innovation is not replicated anywhere else in Canada,” she told OBJ. “They’re all here for a reason.”

Officials from around the country hoping to establish Ottawa as a hub for autonomous vehicles seem to have set the pace car in their efforts: BlackBerry QNX.