Engineering and computer science students at Carleton University will soon be conducting cutting-edge research using technology from a world leader in autonomous vehicle operating systems as part of a multimillion-dollar agreement with BlackBerry QNX.
The school announced the five-year partnership with the software giant this week. Under the agreement, valued at US$21 million, BlackBerry QNX will provide the technology and Carleton will create a new on-campus research facility for students.
Students will use BlackBerry QNX software and hardware at the new embedded operating system software research lab in the Advanced Research and Innovation in Smart Environments building on Carleton’s campus. The equipment includes software that powers BlackBerry QNX’s operating systems as well as powerful computers small enough to fit in the palm of a hand.
BlackBerry QNX’s technology is found in millions of devices, including cars – where it’s used to control GPS, autonomous parking and other smart applications – as well as medical diagnostic technology, robotics systems and household appliances that are connected to the internet through the cloud.
"We want the students to actually use what they will be using in the marketplace."
Getting that groundbreaking equipment into the hands of students will give them a valuable leg up when they enter the workforce, explains Rafik Goubran, Carleton’s vice-president for research and international.
“We want the students to actually use what they will be using in the marketplace,” he says.
“It’s extremely beneficial to us from a research perspective, from a student training perspective and for making sure that the students have exactly what is needed in terms of being familiar with state-of-the-art technologies.”
As many as 600 students and staff at Carleton – mostly master’s and PhD candidates as well as upper-year undergraduate students – will take part in the program each year. They’ll work side-by-side with BlackBerry QNX employees on real-world research projects and get valuable hands-on experience with the technology.
Grant Courville, the company’s Kanata-based vice-president of products and strategy, says BlackBerry QNX has a vested interest in forging closer ties with local post-secondary institutions.
Student outreach programs
“We need to help create the talent that’s going to drive innovation,” he says. “We need to attract the talent to Canadian, Ontario and Ottawa universities, attract them to the companies as well, and we need to retain the talent here.”
The two organizations will also collaborate on outreach programs aimed at enticing more young people – especially underrepresented groups such as women – into pursuing careers in science and technology.
“If we can expose students to technology … (and) what technology can enable, it’s really cool when you see the eyes kind of open up,” Courville says, noting that it really hits home when a student sees, for example, how software can help a driver park a car.
“The lightbulbs start to go off.”
BlackBerry QNX – which employs about 400 people at its flagship Kanata R&D facility – already partners with Carleton on several projects, and the company is also a sponsor of the school’s new Women in Engineering and Information Technology program.
Goubran and Courville say there will likely be more partnerships announced in the future.
“Everything in the world is becoming more connected,” Courville says. “Devices are becoming smarter. You’re going to have more and more automation, more of a need for safety and security, which is obviously 100 per cent in BlackBerry’s wheelhouse.”