Tech Transformers

BlackBerry joins driverless car race

BlackBerry is the latest entrant in the self-driving car race.

The Canadian software firm's QNX division showed off its latest technology at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Wednesday, which demonstrated how cars can communicate with each other as well as traffic lights to improve traffic flow and prevent collisions.

Vehicle to vehicle communication could allow one car to know when the other has suddenly had to brake, helping cars deal with the situation.

BlackBerry also showed off how its software can perform realtime analysis of traffic scenarios that will form the basis for self-driving cars.

Blackberry CEO: Our new products for in-car technology

Software made by QNX is already used by Ford to build its in-car infotainment systems. The latest software update is aimed at laying the groundwork for carmakers to adopt driverless car technology. The QNX operating system works as the basis for other third-party software and hardware companies to build technology on top of.

Laying the groundwork and providing the operating system for driverless cars feeds in to BlackBerry's wider strategy. The company is no longer a major player in smartphones and relies heavily on monetizing its software and services. It is aiming to reach $500 million in software revenue by March.

Of course, the move pits BlackBerry up against the likes of Apple, Google and Tesla. Google for example, said recently that its driverless cars have completed over 2 million miles of autonomous driving. Google also makes Android Auto, an in-car operating system that allows people to use their smartphone apps via a vehicle's dashboard. Apple's version is called CarPlay.

John Chen, CEO of BlackBerry
Justin Solomon | CNBC

BlackBerry's move highlights the continuing trend of technology companies playing increasingly in the automotive industry. Earlier this week, Ford said it would allow its vehicles to be compatible with Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto. And last year, LG said it would make the parts for General Motors' upcoming Chevrolet Bolt EV.

BlackBerry's software for in-car navigation and entertainment systems are already used in millions of cars so the company has a long-standing relationship with manufacturers. The company will be hoping it can leverage those ties as jostle in for a top position in what is a nascent part of the industry.

Driverless car software might not be an instant revenue driver given that the commercialization of self-driving cars might be some years away, but BlackBerry is hoping it will lay the groundwork for a future new revenue stream.