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BlackBerry signs deal with Ford to work on cars of the future

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BlackBerry has made a deal with Ford to produce software that could power the first generation of mass-market self-driving cars. The Canadian company announced yesterday that it was dedicating a team of engineers to help the car manufacturer incorporate a range of BlackBerry software — including its QNX Neutrino operating system, its Certicom security tech, and audio processing software — into future Ford cars.

Ford already uses BlackBerry’s QNX technology in its car infotainment systems, but the manufacturing giant had previously been paying Panasonic for the privilege, rather than BlackBerry itself. In addition to helping Ford utilize existing software, the new deal means BlackBerry can put itself at the center of Ford’s future plans for self-driving cars, helping the Canadian company in its stated aim of pivoting from a hardware company to a software one.

BlackBerry is pivoting from hardware to software

Ford has been aggressive about those plans, specifying earlier this year that it plans to be shipping 100,000 self-driving taxis a year to ride-sharing services by 2021, and selling autonomous cars to regular consumers by 2025. To that end, it’s been increasing the number of staff members it has working on autonomous vehicles from around 150 to 300, and adding another 60 self-driving cars to the 30 it already has at its Silicon Valley research campus.

BlackBerry’s days of dominating the cellphone market are long gone but the company’s QNX subsidiary is its most promising hope for future success. How Ford’s self-driving car efforts pan out is yet to be seen — companies like Google, Baidu, and Mercedes-Benz all plan to have autonomous vehicles on roads at least a year before 2021 — but the deal could help BlackBerry score similar arrangements with other manufacturers.