The role of automotive software has changed profoundly in recent years. Software is now being used and is relied upon for critical operations that were previously being performed by hardware.

Software - The Next Generation of Vehicle Architecture
Software - The Next Generation of Vehicle Architecture

Q&A with Grant Courville, VP, Products and Strategy | BlackBerry QNX

Tell us about yourself and your role at BlackBerry QNX.

As Vice President, Products and Strategy at BlackBerry QNX, I’m responsible for managing the company’s global product portfolio and strategy for the automotive and general embedded markets. I have upwards of 25 years of experience in the embedded industry and am a frequent speaker on connected and autonomous car technology and trends at conferences around the world. In my 20+ years with QNX, I’ve held a variety of leadership roles in engineering, marketing and services. I also serve as a member of the Advisory Board for the Ontario Center of Excellence Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (OCE AVIN), the Invest Ottawa Global Expansion committee and the Ottawa L5 steering committee among others.

 

BlackBerry’s QNX software is already in tens of millions of cars, underpinning systems related to driver assistance, telematics, instrument clusters and entertainment consoles. What have been some of the biggest challenges facing your engineers in its latest developments?

The role of automotive software has changed profoundly in recent years. Software is now being used and is relied upon for critical operations that were previously being performed by hardware. The complexity of the software and the functions it performs continues to grow and our customers rely on our software and services to help them build these complex critical systems.

One only needs to look at the average instrument cluster of a new mid-market car to see this in action. Responsible for relaying important information to the driver, the architecture of the cluster has fundamentally changed. Physical gauges and warning lights have been digitally replaced by software to perform the same functions. Our engineers were faced with the challenge of building software that ensures the cluster is displaying correct information in real-time, while adhering to the ISO 26262 functional safety standard. The challenge in this case is further augmented by the fact that the instrument cluster also makes use of GPU supplier’s software, which is quite complex and not designed with functional safety certification in mind. In this example, we designed and developed an integrated software platform for instrument clusters with an ISO 26262 certified graphics monitor and integrated it with our QNX safety certified operating system.

We are seeing functional safety requirements in more and more automotive systems. The good news is that BlackBerry QNX has a very strong pedigree in building safe and secure software for mission critical, safety critical and life critical embedded systems. This pedigree 100% applies to the ISO 26262 functional safety certification requirements in automotive and as a result, we have invested significantly in this area and offer many safety certified products including our QNX operating system, hypervisor, graphics monitor, communications software, development tools and other middleware. 

 

What are the challenges and opportunities for the automotive and related sectors looking to embrace this emerging technology?

The automotive industry is undergoing a digital transformation. While the bulk of a car’s value was traditionally comprised of its mechanical, hardware, and other physical components, software and connected services are quickly becoming the most important drivers of value, and a key differentiator, for automobile manufacturers. The next generation vehicle architecture has evolved from being hardware-driven to software-defined. Software is now quite literally in the driver’s seat, steering the car industry and redirecting the way it’s been organized since those halcyon days of Henry Ford– who famously remarked that customers could have any color car they wanted as long as it was black. Speaking of Ford, we’re now seeing leading automakers like Ford on record saying they need to think more like a software company in order to thrive within the future of the industry.

Beyond the growing importance of software, what we see is the car moving to more of a software platform that can support a broader ecosystem and car-centric applications. This is why you are seeing so many acquisitions, alliances and new entrants in the automotive industry than ever before. The car will become a software platform where monetization of ADAS features, suspension features, engine features and other valued added services is enabled and that's a huge opportunity. The car is becoming a mobile platform that will present new, non-traditional business opportunities for automakers and many others.

 

Is it possible for BlackBerry QNX to achieve the level of status and widespread use within the automotive market, in the same way BlackBerry’s smartphone dominated the communications field?

With BlackBerry currently powering more than 175 million cars on the road today, we’re well on our way to achieving that same level of ubiquity and widespread use within the global automotive market. The connected car market is set for some serious momentum over the next few years with demand for all of the associated technologies — think internet access, new digital cockpit systems, Over-The-Air software delivery, advanced safety functions, and other advanced technology-based features rising at a significant pace. The world’s leading automakers, their Tier 1 suppliers, chip manufacturers and new startups continue to put their trust in BlackBerry and our ability to provide them with the safety-certified and secure software on which they can build the next generation of cars. I am most certainly counting on further cementing our already well established leadership role within the automotive supply chain.

 

Outline some of the various milestones BlackBerry QNX has achieved to firmly establish its footprint in the automotive electronics marketplace.

In 1998, after undertaking an exhaustive operating system selection process, we were proud to have been selected by Delphi as the operating system platform for their next generation infotainment systems. They realized that infotainment systems would likely become one of the most complex and software-rich systems in the car … and they were absolutely right! Delphi was our first automotive customer. 

Since that time, our software has been deployed across multiple in-car systems in millions of vehicles and as mentioned, our software has been selected as the foundation for next generation vehicles. In terms of milestones, I am proud to say that we have had many customer, partner and product announcements over the years. At the end of the day, it’s our customers, valued partners and the market at large that drive our strategy, our investments and the decisions we make. Our achievements are a result of that.

Of the publicly announced milestones and achievements some of the ones that come to mind are our recent announcement about how BlackBerry’s QNX Software is in more than 175 million vehicles on the road today and the Government of Canada’s $40 million investment in BlackBerry QNX to accelerate our development of safe and secure software for the next generation vehicles. We have also had many companies endorse us publicly such as automakers (Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Byton, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Karma, KIA, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Toyota, and Volkswagen to name a few. Additionally, we have many other partner and customer announcements with companies such as DENSO, Harman, LGe, Intel, NXP, NVIDIA, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Renesas, and Texas Instruments. Of course, as we continued to execute on our strategy, we have announced significant product achievements related to ADAS, Acoustics, V2X SCMS, our operating system, hypervisor, digital cockpit, instrument clusters, infotainment and our product certifications related safety (ISO 26262, IEC 61508) and security.

 

Describe BlackBerry’s progress in automotive cybersecurity and recently achieving the highest level of automotive certification for functional safety.

BlackBerry has a broad portfolio of products and services to protect vehicles against cybersecurity attacks. We also have a broad portfolio of functional safety-certified software including our QNX operating system, hypervisor, development tools and middleware for autonomous and connected vehicles. Our software has been deployed in critical embedded systems for over three decades and has been certified to the highest level of automotive certification for functional safety with ISO 26262 ASIL D. As a company, we are investing significantly to broaden our safety and security product and services portfolio. Simply put, this is what our customers demand and rely on from us – a safe, secure and reliable software platform.  

Currently, our safety-certified, secure foundational automotive software is used by over 45 automakers and in more than 175 million vehicles on the road today.  For well over 3 decades, BlackBerry QNX technology has powered many of the world’s most mission-critical embedded systems including nuclear power plants, industrial controllers, surgical robots and class III life-critical medical devices; the types of systems that are required to operate safely, securely and reliably, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without failure.

As it pertains to security, we firmly believe that security cannot be an afterthought. For automakers and the entire automotive supply chain, security should be inherent in the entire product lifecycle. As part of our ongoing commitment to security, we published a 7-Pillar Cybersecurity Recommendation to share our insight and expertise on this topic. In addition to our safety-certified and secure operating system and hypervisor, BlackBerry provides a host of security products– such as managed PKI, FIPS 140-2 certified toolkits, key inject tools, binary code static analysis tools, security credential management systems (SCMS), and secure Over-The-Air (OTA) Software Update technology. The world’s leading automakers, tier ones, and chip manufacturers continue to seek out BlackBerry’s safety-certified and highly-secure software for their next-generation vehicles. Together with our customers we will help to ensure that the future of mobility is safe, secure and built on trust.

 

What steps is BlackBerry QNX currently taking to broaden or deepen its position within the automotive design market?

As a company, we are taking a broader look at the entire transportation industry. Examining the next-generation connected, automated and autonomous vehicles, it’s clear that building consumer trust when it comes to safety is just as important as building the technology. For the general public to accept and ultimately adopt automated and autonomous vehicles, there needs to be trust in the technologies, trust in their advantages and of course, trust that the companies building them (and profiting off of them) will act responsibly. As you have likely heard from us before, we believe it’s a moral imperative for those of us within the industry that are advancing this fast approaching future to make sure it is both safe and secure.

In support of this, we are working to set industry standards and taking an active role in defining with that future of mobility looks like. We are participating in a number of industry standards efforts and have joined a number of automotive industry associations in the past number of months, such as the Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center (Auto-ISAC).

Aside from further entrenching ourselves as the premiere foundational software platform for next generation vehicles, we are also helping to accelerate the development of Smart Cities and Intelligent Transportation Systems via our Security Credential Management System (SCMS).

 

Look down the road five or so years, where do you see us with autonomous / connected vehicles and what are the major road blocks preventing mass adoption?

Autonomous vehicles, in particular self-driving cars, have certainly been generating a great deal of attention in the market over the past few years. The technology has many potential benefits for individuals, the environment and the economy. However, despite the market hype regarding fully autonomous vehicles for consumers being only a few years away, we know that we all have much more work to do to make the technology safe, secure and reliable. This is why we have consistently said that fully autonomous vehicles, also known as Level 5 vehicles, operating anywhere, anytime, anyplace, are a few decades away and you are now starting to see other industry leaders echo these timeframes as well.

As I said earlier, as the technology and regulations evolve, building consumer trust when it comes to safety is just as important as building the technology. For the general public to accept and ultimately adopt autonomous vehicles, there needs to be trust in the technologies, trust in their benefits and of course, trust that the companies building them will act responsibly. 

Additionally, considerable effort must be put in by the private and public sectors in defining safety regulations and policies. The various levels of government need to continue to work with industry leaders to ensure that proper regulations and policies are introduced to facilitate adoption while not stifling investment and innovation. Safety must be the number one priority for autonomous vehicles.

Getting to full Level 5 autonomy – where an autonomous driven vehicle can take you and your passengers anywhere, anytime and anyplace – is not right around the corner and it’s going to take some time to get there. Likely decades. Solving the really hard problems like how a car operates in extreme weather scenarios or unfamiliar situations is going to take quite a while so I don’t anticipate that we’re going to see autonomous vehicles in every driveway anytime soon.

 
 
About  Grant Courville
As Vice President, Products and Strategy at BlackBerry QNX, BlackBerry, Grant is responsible for managing the company’s global product portfolio and strategy for the automotive and general embedded markets. Grant has over 25 years of experience in the embedded industry and is a recognized leader and spokesperson for connected and autonomous car technology and trends. In his 20+ years with QNX, he has held a variety of leadership roles in engineering, marketing and services. Grant also serves as a member of the Advisory Board for the Ontario Center of Excellence Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (OCE AVIN), the Invest Ottawa Global Expansion committee and the Ottawa L5 steering committee among others.
 
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of RoboticsTomorrow

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