BlackBerry Makes Autonomous Vehicle Play

BlackBerry this week introduced its new Security CredentialManagement System.

SCMS — a free service for the public and privatesectors — could encourage efforts to develop autonomous andconnected vehicle pilot programs.

Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry, which in recent years has pivoted from its past business built around mobile handsets, undertook development of this technologyto provide the critical infrastructure for vehicles and traffic lightsto exchange information securely.

The service will see its first use in conjunction with Invest Ottawa,where it will be used in a 16-kilometer vehicle test track that ismeant to resemble a miniature city, complete with pavementmarkings, traffic lights, stop signs and pedestrian crosswalks.

BlackBerry said it will waive any service fees for this new product. The company likely hopes to gain the trust of automakers, as well as local governments that are involved in the development of smart city infrastructure.

“Vehicles need to be able to securely communicate with other vehicles,infrastructure and a plethora of smart devices,” said Mark Wilson,chief marketing officer at BlackBerry, during a press call on Monday.

The future of autonomous vehicles will relyon a connected infrastructure that will also require security, BlackBerry emphasized.Security is one area in which the company has excelled, even as its share ofthe mobile device market diminished.

“We’re focused on securing every connected thing, whether it is a caror an entire city,” added Wilson, “BlackBerry’s footprint intransportation has never been stronger.”

Secure V2V Communication

Security between vehicles will become increasingly important, as connectedvehicles use various applications to exchange information, according to the United States Department of Transportation, such as information about roadway infrastructure, traffic management, and other data that onboard sensors can’t always detect.

SCMS, which is based on BlackBerry’s Certicom technology,is designed to offer a secure and reliable hosted Public KeyInfrastructure (PKI) that can manage certificates on behalf of anorganization or even an entire ecosystem.

The system also is designed to scale in order to support national as well astransnational deployments, BlackBerry said, which could allow OEMs as well as publicofficials to take advantage of what the company described as a turnkeycloud-based service for vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) certificateissuance and lifecycle management.

“The future of autonomous vehicles cannot be realized untilintelligent transportation systems are put in place,” said BlackBerry CEO John Chen.

“By removing barriers such as security, privacy and cost, we believeour SCMS service will help accelerate the many smart city andconnected vehicle pilot programs taking place around the world,” he added.

From Ottawa and Beyond

Through BlackBerry’s partnership with Invest Ottawa, the first pilot program will take place in the aforementioned private AV test track beginning early next year.

The test tracks will utilize emerging technologies, including 5Gnetworks, with existing city infrastructure — such as traffic lightsand pedestrian walkways.

“Our integrated public and private AV test tracks are equipped withGPS, DSRC, WiFi, 4G/LTE and 5G, making this the first AV testenvironment of its kind in North America,” said Kelly Daize, directorof the CAV Program at Invest Ottawa.

“We look forward to leveraging the world-class security and analyticcapabilities of BlackBerry,” Daize added, “and making them available to innovators,firms, and regions to accelerate the secure deployment of AVs,Intelligent Transportation Systems, and smart cities.”

From this first pilot program, BlackBerry hopes to encourage othercompanies and communities to take advantage of the free SCMS service.

“What we’re doing today is expanding the market for connected vehiclepilots,” said Jim Alfred, head of Certicom for BlackBerry.

The goal is to encourage smart cities, as well as OEMs to work withBlackBerry, he added.

Security Demands

A connected infrastructure could trulybring smart cities and autonomous vehicles together and hence increasesafety. However, security would become even more important, given that anyweak point in the system could open the door to hackers.

“Credentials are about security, not operation,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“Once you connect up a smart city you can lower operating costs, lowertraffic, provide better police protection through better dispatch –larger area fewer people — and generally make the citizens happier,”he told TechNewsWorld.

“But if the system is vulnerable to hack, suddenly these advantagespale in the face of potential life-threatening risks, and trafficlights, utilities and police are disrupted — or, worse, turned intoweapons,” Enderle added.

“The BlackBerry SCMS is designed to ensure the benefits of the formerwithout incurring the risks of the latter,” he explained. “It is tomake sure these systems are always used for rather than against usby a hostile outside entity.”

Smarter Cities or Cars

BlackBerry clearly aims to be an early pioneer in the developmentof back-end technology related to smart cities, but given that vehicle deployment is still in the very early stages, and few communities have expressed interest in smartening up, is the company jumping the gun?

“There are differing perspectives on how soon we will see thisinfrastructure deployed,” said Egil Juliussen, Ph.D., director ofresearch at IHS Automotive Technology.

“There is no question that the connectivity between smart cities andvehicles would help, but so far we’ve seen that the automakers aren’trelying on the smart cities to be developed,” he toldTechNewsWorld. “However, at the same time the smart cities are still the most likelyto be the first places where will see autonomous vehicles head to, asit will be easy to test and try out early versions.”

For those reason it does make sense for BlackBerry to get involvedwith smart cities at this time.

“They want to be an important player in the space, and it is a shrewdmove for them to offer this technology for free,” said Juliussen. “Itpositions them well for volume when the time comes, and this will helpthem become established as a leading vendor.”

The Importance of Connectivity

Even if the automakers remained focused on vehicle sensors, machinelearning, and AI to handle the daily grind of driving, the connectivitywith smart cities should help autonomous vehicles come to fruition sooner.

“Now as far as the need for the vehicles to talk to the city as wellas each other, this is necessary to optimize the system,” said Enderle. “No matter how good the system in the car is, it’s limited by what itcan see and operate — same as a human.”

In addition to making driving safer, handing management to a connectednetwork of systems also could reduce congestion on the roads.

“If it is networked, then the car becomes a component of the whole, andoverall traffic can be rerouted dynamically and coupled with trafficlight timing. Congestion can be massively reduced, and wait times atlights all but eliminated,” Enderle explained.

This approach could be tailored to first responders, who could bedirected accordingly, so that police, fire and medical responsiveness would beincreased. The system also could be used to surround and slowescaping criminals or terrorists.

“In other words, the cars could be used in concert to address issues,”said Enderle. “For instance, say the city needed to evacuate an areaquickly. Cars not in use in other parts of the city could be rerouted to the scene — with the prior approval of their owners — and coordinated electronically. That would optimize the evacuation, shifting lane use dynamically to maximize the speed of initial inbound help and then outbound escape, and safely overriding traffic speed laws for theduration of the problem.”

This understanding of what a connected infrastructure could mean reinforces the importance of keeping it secure. Hackers literally could bring cities to a standstill or worse!

BlackBerry’s Strong Backend

Just as BlackBerry established itself as the market leader forsecure communications in the business communications space, SCMS couldfill a similar role. Given that there isn’t an Apple- orGoogle-powered device to displace it this time around, BlackBerry couldremain dominant — unless, of course, other companies release competingtechnology to secure the back end in the V2X space.

“There is always some risk in that, but eventually the software willbe able to move beyond platforms,” said IHS Automotive Technology’sJuliussen. “With autonomous systems, cybersecurity is one of thetoughest problems, so BlackBerry getting involved now shows that theyhave strong cybersecurity platforms.”

Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and FoxNews.com.Email Peter.

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