Just weeks after announcing that it is getting out of making smartphones and on the heels of a deal with Ford Motor Co. (F), BlackBerry Ltd. (BBRY), through its ONX unit, is one of three companies approved to begin testing driverless cars on the roads of Ontario, Canada.

Vehicles from the University of Waterloo and the Erwin Hymer Group were also approved for testing. BlackBerry’s QNX software unit and the University of Waterloo are working with Ford’s Lincoln division while the Erwin Hymer Group is testing a Mercedes-Benz made by Daimler AG. Testing on public roads in Ontario could start next year. Ontario is joining a growing list of jurisdictions testing autonomous vehicles that rely on sensors, software and other technology to drive themselves.

Win Underscores Push Into Software

For BlackBerry, taking part in a self-driving car test isn't going to lift its fortunes or its stock price any time soon, but it does underscore Blackberry’s commitment to software and its push to branch into new business areas.

In early November, BlackBerry announced a partnership with Ford to develop software for automobiles. The partnership is the first major announcement since BlackBerry said it will no longer make hardware, moving beyond smartphones to focus on software. (See also: New BlackBerry Campaign Highlight Software.)  

With the new deal, Ford, which has committed to bringing a driverless car to market by 2021, will buy software directly from BlackBerry’s QNX unit instead of going through a middleman. Ford already uses QNX for its Sync 3 in-car infotainment systems. As part of the agreement, BlackBerry will dedicate a team to work with Ford on expanding the use of BlackBerry's QNX Neutrino Operating System, Certicom security technology, QNX hypervisor and QNX audio processing software. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Pushing Into Self-Driving Car Software

While Ford has used QNX for its in-car systems, BlackBerry has been moving into self-driving car software, working with startups to develop technology that makes a car brake when it sees something in its path. BlackBerry is hoping to get more of that market and Ford may be the way.

In an interview with Bloomberg, QNX General Manager John Wall said the deal with Ford may open the door for BlackBerry to work directly with other car companies given its software is already used by 40 vehicle companies. "The future of the automobile is all about embedded intelligence. I believe our expertise in secure embedded software makes us the preferred technology provider to put the smart in the car," said John Chen, executive chairman and CEO at BlackBerry in a press release announcing the deal with Ford. BlackBerry isn't the only technology company eyeing the driverless car market. Google and Apple are also big players with Apple even poaching QNX employees, including Dan Dodge, the CEO of QNX, earlier this fall.


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