- BlackBerry introduced its full QNX autonomous car offering at CES 2016.
- QNX offers independent safety systems, navigation engines, added-value features, and a real-time OS.
- The BlackBerry QNX could be the third player, competing with iOS and Android in the auto market.
Autonomous cars are one of the hottest tech trends these days, and they bring a new type of partnership between technology companies and leading automakers. Tech giants like Alphabet Inc-C (NASDAQ:GOOG), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), and Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) who led the race to autonomous cars and small pure-play components suppliers like Mobileye (NYSE:MBLY) attracted most of the attention with well-covered projects, many speculations, and a lot of buzz in the media.
However, in recent months, more and more tech companies from a broad range of segments have been trying to penetrate that market by offering software or complimentary hardware solutions. As the requirements and specs of autonomous cars will be shaped these days, many companies are attempting to become one of the vendors that will be widely used in this emerging industry.
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the smartphone maker BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) announced that the company is penetrating the luxurious market of autonomous (and semi-autonomous) cars with several software solutions from its QNX subsidiary. QNX is attempting to challenge Google's and Apple's efforts to expand their ecosystems into the rising autonomous cars market by offering a dedicated real-time operating system that addresses some of the unique requirements of the auto industry.
The first and most basic requirement is a high-quality infotainment system that includes essential music, video, and information applications. This infotainment requirement is addressed partially by proprietary software and partially by downloadable third-party apps. This is a relatively simple step for QNX and BlackBerry, who have long experience in developing an independent operating system, expanding the ecosystem, and partnering with third-party software developers for added-value applications.
The second requirement—the navigation system—might seem simple, but it is far more complicated to execute successfully than is believed. Google and Apple have their own map services—Waze and HopStop, respectively, which were partially developed internally and partially acquired. Apple Maps is a great example illustrating how difficult it is for a software developer, no matter how big and successful it may be, to execute a flawless navigation system that includes advanced features such as ride-hailing features, public transportation information, traffic information, and real-time user input (through a social interface). QNX currently has its own navigation system powered by a number of navigation engines that are fully integrated into the QNX car platform.
The third requirement is more complicated, and it relates to secure navigation and the safety of the passengers. Autonomous cars by definition will have to adopt advanced safety systems to alert and adjust their route according to developments on the road, which include possible car collisions, passenger-related hazards, and physical objects on the road. Mobileye is one of the vendors for such a system that has been adopted by leading automakers General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Volkswagen (OTC:VLKAY) as well as Google for its autonomous car project.
QNX offers its own safety system called V2X that allows a vehicle with the QNX OS to communicate directly with other vehicles and infrastructures like traffic lights and road signs. Vehicle-to-vehicle technology is one of the most important part in autonomous driving as it allows the car to have autonomous capabilities.
The fourth requirement is added-value features that could differentiate the QNX ecosystem from Android and iOS and differentiate one automaker from another. QNX has a number of differentiation features like embedded augmented reality, acoustic solutions (through embedded microphones and speakers), digital mirrors, location-based information, etc.
Looking at the four requirement categories listed above, I believe that BlackBerry could deliver an on-par operating system comparable to iOS and Android; however, in terms of ecosystems, it’s lagging behind Apple and Google. QNX is developing an independent safety system, which could be an advantage in the autonomous cars market as it will be optimally integrated into the operating system and complementary services.
I think there are two areas where QNX might be falling short compared to Google and Apple—in the navigation system and added-value features. However, there are at least five years until autonomous cars become available to the public, and QNX could continue improving its solution. When Android and iOS penetrate almost every technology segment, I believe that the auto industry will look for a pure-play competitor that focuses on this market, narrowing the dependency on Android and iOS. In this environment, BlackBerry could become the third player in the autonomous cars market.