Canada Gets Self-Driving Cars Thanks To... BlackBerry?

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BlackBerry phones might not be dead yet, but the once-mighty Canadian smartphone maker has all but bowed out of its original market, and is now turning its attention to another tech horizon: self-driving cars.

The company on Monday announced plans to open a center for autonomous vehicle research in Ottawa, Ontario. There, software engineers will work on a pilot project to test a BlackBerry-powered self-driving car on public roads, thanks to a recently-awarded permit from the provincial government.

For BlackBerry, autonomous vehicle research is more than just an effort to hitch itself to a hot trend or distract itself from its smartphone misfortunes: the company's investment in cars dates to at least 2010, when it acquired embedded operating system manufacturer QNX, which makes Ford's Sync platform. Like Google, QNX won't be making the actual autonomous vehicles, but rather the software that powers their sensors and cameras.

"Our play in this is that we provide the software foundation for these high-performance compute platforms," QNX head John Wall told Reuters.

BlackBerry didn't offer specifics about when it expects its cars to hit the road, saying only that it would showcase "early results" from the research center at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month.

Last week, BlackBerry inked a deal with TCL, which will see the Hong Kong-based electronics maker design, manufacture, sell, and provide customer support for BlackBerry-branded mobile devices. The deal leaves BlackBerry in the smartphone market in name only, and will likely see it devote more attention to QNX and other parts of its business.

BlackBerry will be testing autonomous driving technologies just across Lake Huron from Michigan, the heart of the American auto industry, which this month passed landmark legislation to welcome self-driving cars to its public roads.

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