December 19, 2016 3:22 pm

BlackBerry to spend $100M on self-driving technology

BlackBerry Ltd plans to invest $100 million in a new autonomous vehicle-testing hub over several years, and predicts to create as many as 650 new jobs in the process.

The Canadian Press/Geoff Robins

BlackBerry plans to invest $100 million in a new autonomous vehicle-testing hub over several years, the company’s chief executive said on Monday, marking a change of direction for the smartphone pioneer.

“Most of all the money will go to jobs,” John Chen told reporters at an event opening the Ottawa-area facility.

READ MORE: BlackBerry partners with Ford to provide software for connected cars

The company, which is racing to increase its software revenue as its handset unit and related legacy service access fees shrink, hopes to make itself an indispensable, under-the-hood piece of the automotive industry’s weaponry in the self-driving vehicle arms race.

BlackBerry said it will work with middleware supplier PolySync and semiconductor company Renesas Electronics Corp , as well as its hometown University of Waterloo, to build an autonomous concept vehicle.

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The company’s Toronto-listed shares rose nearly 4 per cent to a one-month high.

Chen said the company may hire over several years as many as 650 engineers, each earning about C$150,000 annually.

Adding that many positions would boost the company’s annual payroll by nearly C$100 million, or all of Blackberry’s planned investment over several years.

The company’s QNX unit, renamed BlackBerry QNX, employs around 400 engineers, some three-quarters of them at its facility in Kanata on the outskirts of Ottawa.

BlackBerry has about 5,000 employees in total.

READ MORE: What’s next for BlackBerry now that it has kissed smartphones goodbye?

While the embedded operating system market is likely to grow quickly as autonomous driving takes off, BlackBerry faces numerous competitive threats, including from independent embedded operating system producer Green Hills Software as well as chipmakers such as Intel Corp.

It must also convince system integrators including former QNX owner Harman International Industries Inc that its offering is compelling.

Reporting by Alastair Sharp in Ottawa; editing by Rod Nickel

© 2016 Thomson Reuters

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