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BlackBerry pushes deeper into self-driving tech space with Ottawa research center

BlackBerry on Monday opened a self-driving research center in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, potentially setting the stage for its QNX subsidiary to be an important player in autonomous platforms.

The center's launch is being attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Reuters reported. In fact the facility is an expansion of QNX's existing Ottawa offices, and will focus on providing a "software foundation" for the "high-performance compute platforms" that self-driving technology requires.

In November, BlackBerry and the University of Waterloo secured permission to test Lincolns with autonomous technology on public roads in the province of Ontario. More significantly, BlackBerry is partnered with Lincoln's parent company —Ford —which is aiming to have a vehicle for ridehailing services by 2021.

QNX head John Wall told Reuters that his firm is in advanced talks with "more than one or two" other major automakers, while cautioning that it will take a long time for fully self-driving vehicles to match the hype surrounding them.

Ford and QNX are in a race to catch up with companies like Uber, Tesla, and Alphabet's Waymo, all three of which are further along in autonomous tech. Uber is testing self-driving vehicles in limited commercial practice, while Tesla is already selling cars equipped with the necessary hardware, even if their current self-driving functions are deliberately limited. Under its Google X incarnation, Waymo was one of the first entities to seriously test self-driving prototypes, and it's thought to be working toward a ridehailing service coming as soon as next year.

Apple is known to be working on its own self-driving platform, but its testing has remained cloaked in shadows. Indeed the project is believed to be in limbo, such that Apple will only decide in late 2017 whether it wants to resume designing its own car or simply partner with an existing automaker.