QNX at fore­front of auto tech

Ottawa Business Journal - Techopia - - Front Page - BY CRAIG LORD

The au­ton­o­mous driving in­dus­try is revving up, and Ottawa seems primed to lead the pack.

QNX Soft­ware Sys­tems is the leader of the city’s au­to­mo­tive soft­ware in­dus­try. The de­vel­oper of au­to­mo­bile clus­ters, telem­at­ics and in­fo­tain­ment OS be­came a Black­Berry sub­sidiary in 2010 and now acts as the Water­loo gi­ant’s au­to­mo­tive arm. QNX reached a mile­stone this sum­mer with its acous­tics soft­ware ship­ping in more than 50 mil­lion sys­tems across 20 au­tomak­ers, and the re­lease of a new plat­form for in­stru­ment clus­ters.

This suc­cess hasn’t gone un­no­ticed in the in­dus­try. Ap­ple re­cently picked up Dan Dodge, the founder and for­mer CEO of QNX, with spec­u­la­tion that he will be part of the com­pany’s own au­ton­o­mous drive am­bi­tions. “Project Ti­tan,” as the top-se­cret ini­tia­tive has been dubbed, has led Ap­ple to es­tab­lish a Kanata pres­ence across from QNX.

The next 10 years will be piv­otal for the fu­ture of au­ton­o­mous drive. A re­port from KPMG ear­lier this year stated the auto in­dus­try was primed for the self-driving rev­o­lu­tion. “Every­thing, from how we move goods to how we move our­selves around, is ripe for change,” it read.

And QNX wants to drive that change.


“We see the role of QNX as pro­vid­ing a safe and se­cure plat­form and all the nec­es­sary plumb­ing to con­nect these sys­tems to­gether,” says John Wall, vice-pres­i­dent of engi­neer­ing and ser­vices.

The sys­tems, he says, need to come to­gether to form a world of self-driving cars.

To move in­de­pen­dently of a driver’s con­trol, cars will need to un­der­stand the world around them. To this end, QNX is de­vel­op­ing ob­ject recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy so that a car can read a stop sign, for ex­am­ple, or rec­og­nize an ad­ja­cent lane. On top of that, the com­pany looks to en­able cars to ac­tu­ally com­mu­ni­cate with driving in­fra­struc­ture, and even with other cars (col­lec­tively, V2X).


Cars need to talk to each other to avoid col­li­sions. Makes sense, right? Well, there’s a bit of a snag, says Wall.

“I think prob­a­bly the largest chal­lenge is, how do you make sure all the ve­hi­cles and the in­fra­struc­tures are speak­ing the same lan­guage? This is what might take time to im­ple­ment.”

KPMG iden­ti­fied an­other hur­dle in its re­port: you’re not get­ting into a self-driving car un­til you’re 100 per cent sure it’s not go­ing to drive off a cliff.

There will most cer­tainly be early adopters when au­ton­o­mous drive is ready for public streets, but QNX rec­og­nizes con­sumer hes­i­tance in hand­ing over to­tal con­trol of the car. Mal­func­tions aside, an in­se­cure OS could open the door to the hack­ing of self-driving cars. ( You wouldn’t want to be David Has­sel­hoff if KITT from Knight Rider sud­denly went rogue.)


On the other hand, that’s also where Wall sees the op­por­tu­nity to es­tab­lish QNX as an in­dus­try leader. Wall knows that safety and se­cu­rity of the self-driving car will be para­mount, but he is adamant that QNX can be­come the OS of the au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle. He sees its plat­form as the stead­fast “glue” in the car that will con­nect au­ton­o­mous drive sys­tems from a va­ri­ety of de­vel­op­ers.

KPMG also found the even­tual adop­tion of au­ton­o­mous drive would dra­mat­i­cally re­duce ac­ci­dents, pre­dict­ing that nearly 80 per cent of crashes could be mit­i­gated with con­trolled-ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy. That’s thou­sands of lives (and bil­lions of dol­lars) saved.


Wall sug­gests that au­ton­o­mous driving won’t hap­pen all at once. He sees semi­au­tonomous, or as­sisted, driving as the tran­si­tional step that will win over driv­ers.

Tech­nolo­gies such as park as­sist and blind spot mon­i­tor­ing, al­ready fea­tured in many ve­hi­cles, can help to build con­sumer con­fi­dence. Phas­ing in smart sen­sors that can help you to make a lane change safely, for ex­am­ple, is the kind of baby step that can make a driver more com­fort­able with even­tu­ally taking their hands off the wheel en­tirely.

“I think it’s go­ing to be grad­ual. I re­ally see a large time­frame where you’re go­ing to have as­sisted driving that’s go­ing to, ev­ery year, year over year, im­prove the safety of the ve­hi­cle be­fore peo­ple start watch­ing TV in the car,” says Wall.

QNX is fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing this tran­si­tion with its “glass cock­pit” con­cept. Sit­ting in the front seat, a driver should have a clear view of the car’s in­stru­ment clus­ter and in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. This means you can as­sess speed, up­com­ing nav­i­ga­tion com­mands, com­mu­ni­cate dis­trac­tion­free with the back seat, and more – all this with­out ever taking your eyes off the road.


Wall is glad his team is taking on this am­bi­tious work in Ottawa. While QNX has arms all over the world, hav­ing head­quar­ters in Canada’s cap­i­tal has meant ac­cess to a pool of tal­ent from some of the best soft­ware com­pa­nies in the world.

“From a soft­ware tal­ent base, I don’t know that I’ve seen a place that’s much bet­ter than Ottawa.”

Whether it’s led by an es­tab­lished leader in QNX, or a sud­den push from a Cal­i­for­nia jug­ger­naut, it seems the road to au­ton­o­mous driving runs through Ottawa.

From a soft­ware tal­ent base, I don’t know that I’ve seen a place that’s much bet­ter than Ottawa.



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