BlackBerry, Tesla and Autonomous Car Safety

At BlackBerry’s analyst summit this week, a great deal of time was spent on the company’s secure QNX operating system, its IVY platform for software management on cars, and other tools and utilities designed for the next generation of personal transportation.

This conversation can’t happen soon enough. A growing concern of mine is that automobile companies don’t yet seem to fully understand the risk they are taking with platforms that aren’t secure enough for products tied to human transportation and safety.

Having someone hack your phone or PC is bad, but having someone hack your car could be deadly. So when the industry is talking about putting apps in cars, safety and security should be a far higher priority for many of the automotive OEMs than it seems to be.

Granted, many of these companies are using, or planning to use, QNX for the operation of their cars, relegating Android and Linux to the entertainment functions of the vehicle. But this is not universal, and that could lead to some unnecessary accidents and liability for car makers who try to cut corners or attempt to build their own platforms without the necessary software background and experience.

 Tesla: A Cautionary Tale

Tesla was largely the pioneer of both electric and self-driving technology on the road – and a significant number of people have been injured or died as a result. On the positive side, Tesla did have a higher level of technological understanding than the older car companies, but on the negative side, they didn’t seem to take certain risks seriously enough, which resulted in unnecessary customer deaths.

Generally, it is considered bad form to kill your customers. However, over time, cars have gotten safer and far more capable. One example I witnessed early on was how they trusted this new technology too much and didn’t design good workarounds when it failed. Stories of people getting locked into the back of Tesla Xs were common. I had a friend whose Tesla’s software crashed with his newborn baby in the locked car in 115-degree weather. Fortunately, they were able to get to the child through the manual release in the Tesla trunk, but had they left the child in the car, or pets, and this crash had occurred (so the air conditioning shut off) the outcome would have been far more dire.

Same with Tesla’s Autopilot. The product name implied self-driving ability, but the technology wasn’t, and still isn’t, at that level. This resulted in a number of unnecessary deaths and a request from Consumer Reports to at least change the name (which Tesla refused to do), to prevent those deaths. NHTSA was not amused

Tesla is functioning as an early warning system for the rest of the industry, and I’m worried that one or more of the other car companies’ decisions to not use industry standard hardware and software could have similar tragic results.

Also read: 6 Emerging Technologies to Watch from the Current Gartner Hype Cycle

Securing Next-gen Cars

Since its pivot away from smartphones around a decade ago, BlackBerry has been a security-focused vendor with interests that cover government, healthcare, finance, defense and automotive markets. This heavy focus on security, both in terms of hardware and software, makes it uniquely capable of addressing what will likely be the biggest exposures coming in autonomous cars, and especially flying cars (which may be an even greater need at some point because if a flying car’s software crashes, you probably won’t survive the result).

While BlackBerry’s QNX platform is widely penetrated in the automotive market, and it partners with other companies that also help advance this market, like NVIDIA and Qualcomm, QNX isn’t as universally used as NVIDIA’s Omniverse simulation platform, but it should be.

In the end, when we choose those future cars, it may make more sense for our safety and those we love if we limit our choices to cars that are designed to be secure and run QNX for car operations, so we don’t become a footnote in another article on bad automotive OEM behavior like those about Tesla’s tragedies.

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The Automotive Future Needs to Be Secure

We are anticipating a growing wave of electric autonomous cars and flying cars. These vehicles will require a massive focus on security to ensure they don’t become rolling disasters waiting to happen.

Of the vendors I cover, BlackBerry is the most focused on this problem, and its QNX platform is the most secure automotive OS on the market. Here’s hoping the car companies do what they did with NVIDIA Omniverse and recognize that, when it comes to safety, the best product, not the cheapest, may turn out to be the least expensive in the long run.

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