BlackBerry said it built the first safety-certified “digital cockpit” that can securely integrate with Android apps, a breakthrough that the company said will allow drivers to use those apps without fear of compromising the vehicle.
Grant Courville, vice-president of product management and strategy at BlackBerry QNX, said the company’s new QNX Platform for Digital Cockpits puts a vehicle’s infotainment and digital instrument clusters onto a single electronic control unit. Consolidating more systems onto fewer ECUs will be important as automakers look to build autonomous vehicles in the future.
“To get to that Level 4, Level 5 autonomous vehicle, that’s what has to happen,” he said. “But where consumers are going to see it first, and they might not even notice it, in the car from a technology perspective is in the cockpit.”
Moving the instrument and infotainment displays onto a single ECU comes with a challenge, though: There have long been concerns about Android apps and their security. And given that automakers typically only have the ability to offer over-the-air updates to their vehicles once or twice per year in many cases, vehicles connected to Android could face significant security risks.
“That’s extremely difficult from a technology perspective, because on the one hand you want to run safety-certified software, and then you want to run the Android applications,” Courville said. “But you want to make sure that if anything ever got compromised from an Android position, you want to make sure that will never, ever compromise the safety of the vehicle or get access to any data or access to any systems on the vehicle that it shouldn’t have access to.”
Courville said BlackBerry’s new system does just that. The various operating systems can work without interfering with each other, he said. The platform would prevent, for instance, an app trying to gain access to data on a vehicle that it is not authorized to obtain.
“What that means is we control access to all of the hardware in the digital cockpit. In other words, Android can never touch the hardware directly,” he said. “We’re telling the automakers that if you need to run Android apps in the car, we can provide a complete platform that provides the security and safety that they want while enabling them to run their favourite Android apps.”
While the change could be important for automakers who are looking for greater security, consumers likely would not notice the difference, Courville said.
“From a consumer perspective, they’ll just hit an icon, whether it’s Pandora or a weather app or Google Maps, for instance, and they won’t know if it’s an Android app or a native QNX app,” he said. “Our job is to make that completely seamless.”
Android has been under fire recently for security issues that could compromise connected vehicles. A 2017 study by the security firm Kaspersky, for instance, found that nine undisclosed apps, which had been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, could be used to hack into a vehicle and, in some cases, turn on the ignition, according to Wired.
BlackBerry is to demonstrate the technology in a 2019 Karma Revero concept at its booth at CES in Las Vegas.