It’s all about the voice. Amazon’s Alexa made a huge splash at CES this year and signaled the new age of digital assistance, to rival Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s …Google? It’s funny that the device we held in our hands from the Palm Pilot onward were referred to as PDA’s or Personal Digital Assistants, but it wasn’t until the last couple of years that we got the real deal.

Siri, Alexa and Google’s Android offering, which I call Sparky, are moving us into the age of the avatar. Speaking is the most natural thing we do, we don’t need any tools to do it, and we can do it while doing other things. It is the most convenient way to interact with computers, but it hasn’t been until recently that AI or Deep Learning Systems have been able to process enough data properly to really listen to you and to carry out your request with an acceptable degree of accuracy.

The trend isn’t a future speculation, it’s already here. According to Apple, Siri handles over two billion commands per week and Google reports that 20% of Google searches on Android-powered handsets in America are input by voice. Even Amazon Echo, which is relatively new in the market, was already in 4% of American households before Christmas.

IoT is predicted to become $1.46 trillion worldwide market by 2020 and as such, giants like Cisco, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, AT&T, Bosch, Dell, GE, Google, Hitachi Data Systems, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Oracle, PTC, Salesforce, Samsung, Siemens and Qualcomm seeking to fill the void.

So you can understand my confusion when BlackBerry announced just recently that it had collaborated with Renesas Electronics America to develop an automotive-grade technology platform for autonomous driving with the result of their collaboration intended to hit the track at the 2017 CES.

The prototype is based on the 2017 Lincoln MKZ car model and will be powered by BlackBerry QNX’s Neutrino real-time operating system and QNX platform for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) on the Renesas R-Car H3 system-on-a-chip (SOC) platform.

The vehicle is intended to demonstrate Society of Automotive Engineers Level 4 capabilities, using integrated hardware, software, and various sensors to detect obstacles on the road, recognize stop signs, and cross traffic intersections, and perform automatic lane changes, all in a safe, secure manner.

Senior vice-president and head of BlackBerry QNX, John Wall, commented on the partnership, “The collaboration with Renesas supports BlackBerry’s mission to accelerate the commercial realization of connected and autonomous driving vehicles by developing production-ready software independently and in collaboration with partners.”

He went on to add, “BlackBerry’s QNX Neutrino real-time OS and QNX ADAS technology, along with the Renesas R-Car H3 SoC, provides a foundation on which secure and safety-certifiable applications can be built. Customers now have a credible path from the research environment to ISO 26262 safety-certified production systems.”

That was a mouthful, but basically John was saying BlackBerry is working to prove that you can have a safe and secure autonomous driving solution using available hardware and software, today, rather than 10 years from now.

We already have Uber, Google, and possibly Apple working on autonomous driving vehicles. They have buildings of eggheads and billions of dollars to accomplish this task. BlackBerry may have a couple billion to throw around, but they are already reeling from John Chen’s restructuring, how the hell are they going to get in front of this nascent space?

Sure, they may bring something to market before the others, but it will likely be a cobbled together solution from available sources and, once embedded solutions designed from the ground up are available, BlackBerry’s Neutrino may disappear as quickly as its namesake.

On another note, BlackBerry’s new Mercury handset was unveiled at CES as well to great acclaim and even won an award. Chen seems to be winning at the moment with his decision to drop hardware manufacture and let companies like TLC and BB Merah Putih help rebuild BlackBerry’s brand.

The company released this statement shortly after CES, “We’re very excited about the coming BlackBerry branded ‘Mercury’ smartphone. It’s the last phone that we designed and engineered in-house. Our global licensing partner TCL will be manufacturing Mercury and bringing it to market in many countries around the world.”

“Providing state-of-the-art security software is what we’ve delivered since day one to our customers, and what we will continue to do. BlackBerry is 100 percent focused on software solutions, providing the embedded intelligence to secure the Enterprise of Things so that the Internet of Things can thrive. As part of this strategy, we are now leveraging third parties for the development, distribution, and marketing of BlackBerry handsets, while we continue to own the BlackBerry brand.”

Even with Mercury’s success, I’m still not sure of BlackBerry’s survival, never mind resurgence. We may well look back one day and see Chen’s move into a new arena as a smart attempt to get ahead of the curve, as Blackberry did before the iPhone destroyed all comers. Or we may determine that Chen took his eye off the ball at the wrong time, squandering treasure and time on an attempt to chase better funded frontrunners.

It’ll take another 12-18 months to see how this expanded mandate plays out.

–Gaalen Engen

http://twitter.com/gaalenengen

FULL DISCLOSURE: The Author has no connection to BlackBerry and the company is NOT a client of EQUITY.GURU.

 

 

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Gaalen Engen

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