Update: BlackBerry to add hundreds of autonomous vehicles jobs, co-op positions in Kanata

blackberry qnx
A BlackBerry QNX test vehicle drives, hands-free, down a Kanata road in the first public test of an autonomous vehicle on Canadian streets.

The Liberal government is adding $40 million in federal money to a $310.5-million pledge from BlackBerry aimed at supporting the development of self-driving car technologies in Kanata.

BlackBerry’s spending will come over the next 10 years and, alongside the money from the federal government’s Strategic Innovation Fund announced on Friday, is expected to create a total of 800 new jobs and nearly 1,000 co-op placements. In addition to the AV spending, BlackBerry is also committing $5 million to develop new cybersecurity solutions with government and industry partners.

Though it built its name as a trusted handset developer, the BlackBerry of today has tied its future to software and autonomous car technologies. The Waterloo-based company’s AV development is largely concentrated in its QNX division, headquartered in Kanata.

BlackBerry has positioned itself as a leader in the connected car space, with its technology in tens of millions of vehicles today. The company has been involved in numerous autonomous vehicle initiatives locally, such as the city’s new AV test track and the first-ever test of a self-driving car on a Canadian public road back in 2017.

BlackBerry QNX’s head of product Grant Courville told OBJ last year that the firm’s decision to establish an AV centre of excellence locally turned Kanata into a beacon for talent, post-secondary institutions and other companies interested in the industry.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the funding Friday morning alongside BlackBerry CEO John Chen in Kanata. Trudeau was also in attendance in late 2016 when the company announced it would be investing $100 million in its Kanata operations, then expecting to add some 650 jobs.

Though BlackBerry does not regularly disclose its headcount, the firm was last reported to have around 400 local employees. Many of those workers were part of a Canada-wide, 300-employee transfer from BlackBerry’s QNX division to Ford Motor Co. in 2017 following an announcement that the two firms would be working together on vehicle connectivity projects.

The move triggered a class-action lawsuit claiming the former BlackBerry employees were owed severance, and a lawyer representing one of the workers told OBJ “a fair number” of those affected were from the company’s Kanata division. BlackBerry said at the time it rejected the claims, which have not been proven in court.

Ford has since grown its presence in the capital with plans for a new R&D centre. The new Cominar build will have space for some 300 employees and is slated to open next year in Kanata South.

– With files from Canadian Press