BlackBerry Makes Autonomous Vehicle Play

BlackBerry this week introduced its new Security Credential Management System.

SCMS — a free service for the public and private sectors — could encourage efforts to develop autonomous and connected vehicle pilot programs.

Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry, which in recent years has pivoted from its past business built around mobile handsets, undertook the development of this technology to provide the critical infrastructure for vehicles and traffic lights to 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 is meant to resemble a miniature city, complete with pavement markings, 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 rely on a connected infrastructure that will also require security, BlackBerry emphasized. Security is one area in which the company has excelled, even as its share of the mobile device market diminished.

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

Secure V2V Communication

Security between vehicles will become increasingly important as connected vehicles 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 Key Infrastructure (PKI) that can manage certificates on behalf of an organization or even an entire ecosystem.

The system also is designed to scale in order to support national as well as transnational deployments, BlackBerry said, which could allow OEMs as well as public officials to take advantage of what the company described as a turnkey cloud-based service for vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) certificate issuance and lifecycle management.

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

“By removing barriers such as security, privacy, and cost, we believe our SCMS service will help accelerate the many smart city and connected 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 5G networks, with existing city infrastructure — such as traffic lights and pedestrian walkways.

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

“We look forward to leveraging the world-class security and analytic capabilities 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 other companies and communities to take advantage of the free SCMS service.

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

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

Security Demands

A connected infrastructure could truly bring smart cities and autonomous vehicles together and hence increase safety. However, security would become even more important, given that any weak 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, lower traffic, 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 a hack, suddenly these advantages pale in the face of potentially life-threatening risks, and traffic lights, utilities, and police are disrupted — or, worse, turned into weapons,” Enderle added.

“The BlackBerry SCMS is designed to ensure the benefits of the former without incurring the risks of the latter,” he explained. “It is to make sure these systems are always used for rather than against us by a hostile outside entity.”

Smarter Cities or Cars

BlackBerry clearly aims to be an early pioneer in the development of 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 this infrastructure deployed,” said Egil Juliussen, Ph.D., director of research at IHS Automotive Technology.

“There is no question that the connectivity between smart cities and vehicles would help, but so far we’ve seen that the automakers aren’t relying on the smart cities to be developed,” he told TechNewsWorld. “However, at the same time, the smart cities are still the most likely to be the first places where will see autonomous vehicles head to, as it will be easy to test and try out early versions.”

For those reasons, it does make sense for BlackBerry to get involved with smart cities at this time.

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

The Importance of Connectivity

Even if the automakers remained focused on vehicle sensors, machine learning, and AI to handle the daily grind of driving, the connectivity with 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 well as 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 it can see and operate — same as a human.”

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

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

This approach could be tailored to first responders, who could be directed accordingly so that police, fire, and medical responsiveness would be increased. The system also could be used to surround and slow escaping 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 area quickly. 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 the duration of the problem.”

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

BlackBerry’s Strong Backend

Just as BlackBerry established itself as the market leader for secure communications in the business communications space, SCMS could fill a similar role. Given that there isn’t an Apple- or Google-powered device to displace it this time around, BlackBerry could remain dominant — unless, of course, other companies release competing technology to secure the back end in the V2X space.

“There is always some risk in that, but eventually, the software will be able to move beyond platforms,” said IHS Automotive Technology’s Juliussen. “With autonomous systems, cybersecurity is one of the toughest problems, so BlackBerry getting involved now shows that they have strong cybersecurity platforms.”

Peter Suciu

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 Peter.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

More by Peter Suciu
More in Cybersecurity

Technewsworld Channels