BlackBerry, Ford to expand use of software behind SYNC

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

BlackBerry on Monday announced it will join with Ford Motor Co. to develop software that could be used for more than infotainment systems in Ford vehicles.

The companies will use software currently supporting Ford’s SYNC infotainment system to develop technology throughout the cars, according to John Wall, BlackBerry senior vice president and head of the software subsidiary QNX. The systems could range from active safety to autonomous technology, though Wall did not say what Ford and BlackBerry would be working on together.

The contractual agreement lets BlackBerry work directly with Ford, cutting out the middleman, Wall said.

Wall said Monday that BlackBerry’s QNX and security software can be used outside of Ford’s SYNC 3 system. Due to a confidentiality agreement, Wall would not say exactly how the software will be used, in which vehicles or when it might be deployed. A Ford representative also declined to comment on when or how the software will be used.

“We’re starting to work with Ford now,” Wall said. “The possibilities of where we can be used in the vehicle is basically in the entire vehicle.”

Wall said QNX can be used to develop infotainment systems, active safety features and other operating systems.

The news comes as automakers around the globe are amping up autonomous driving research and development.

Ford said in August they’d have a driverless car without a steering wheel or pedals on the road by 2021. The cars would be available only for commercial applications like ride-sharing in major cities at first.

Wall said BlackBerry is looking forward to driving “the future of automotive software through this expanded partnership.” He touched on BlackBerry’s “strong reputation” for security. Functional safety and new technology are worthless without security, Wall said.

Wall said BlackBerry and QNX take a “layered approach to security” that create a series of checks and balances throughout programs developed using the software.

“The future of the automobile is all about embedded intelligence,” Wall said. “We believe our expertise in secure embedded software makes us the preferred technology provider to put the smart safely in cars.”

BlackBerry will dedicate a team to work with Ford on expanding the use of the software.

“With the success of our SYNC 3 system globally, which is based on the BlackBerry QNX operating system, we understand the importance of the connected-car experience to our customers,” said Raj Nair, executive vice president of product development and chief technical officer at Ford, said in a news release. “Growing our expertise, experience and use of the BlackBerry QNX-embedded software platforms will help ensure we deliver the high-quality, highly secure experience that our customers expect.”

Ford’s SYNC 3 has an interface that includes one-box search menus, automatic wireless software updates and an app network called Sync AppLink that allows customers to connect their smartphone to their vehicle and control compatible apps — including Spotify, Pandora, Glympse, NPR One and iHeart Auto — using voice commands or buttons on the vehicle display screen.

It also has a 911-assist feature that can tell emergency personnel what type of accident a vehicle was involved in and whether or not the driver was wearing a seat belt.

According to Wall, the new agreement with Ford will result in “a more complete cockpit experience” in Ford vehicles.

QNX is currently used in 60 million cars worldwide, Wall said.

The agreement with Ford does not grant Ford exclusive access to QNX. Wall said multiple auto companies are looking to develop the next generation of automotive software features.

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Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau