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Get In: The Connected Vehicle Podcast From BlackBerry (Episode 6)

Smarter Cars with BlackBerry IVY™

Cars have changed considerably over the last few decades, but more on the inside than the outside. Since the arrival of in-car navigation systems, the software platforms cars rely on have grown increasingly centralized, offering more and more features. We are now at a watershed moment where the software capabilities are beginning to define a vehicle’s desirability to customers. But today’s increasingly software-defined and connected vehicles need a solid basis that can deliver both variety and security. That’s something many manufacturers can struggle to provide on their own.

Welcome to the sixth episode of “Get In: The Connected Vehicle Podcast from BlackBerry,” a podcast series that explores the possibilities created by–and technologies behind–the revolution in global transportation we are witnessing today. In this episode, we meet Peter Virk, Vice President for the BlackBerry IVY™ ecosystem. The BlackBerry IVY platform, developed in partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS), promises to deliver the solid and secure basis automakers need to deliver the next generation of vehicle capabilities in a connected world.

Click below to listen/watch the full Episode 6 podcast. Additional episodes can be found here.
 

“Early into my teens I had a passion for cars, and used to spend most of my holidays with my uncle repairing some of his vehicles–Ford Fiestas, Ford Escorts, and so forth,” says Virk. “I was very fortunate to go onto an apprenticeship scheme with a company that was called Rover Group in 1995. Back then cars were quite different.”

Virk started to see the rate of change accelerate when Rover Group was purchased by BMW in 1994. Land Rover was sold to Ford, and merged with Jaguar. “During those days, they had a division of Ford called PAG, Premier Automotive Group,” explains Virk. “One of my roles was as an engineer on navigation systems for PAG.” The Range Rover Evoque, which arrived after Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) was subsequently purchased by India’s Tata Motors in 2008, was a defining vehicle in this era. “We managed to do many ‘world firsts’,” says Virk, such as the “world’s first in-car fuel payment; working with camera technology companies like GoPro to integrate software into vehicles; and applying our vision about a connected car experience in the future.”

Around 2010, Virk became familiar with BlackBerry's automotive aspirations through its acquisition of QNX in that year. Adapted for in-car systems, the QNX real-time operating system (RTOS) now runs in over 195 million vehicles. “Working for an OEM (original equipment manufacturer), we had a relationship with Blackberry QNX, and this was the first time we heard the term, ‘the software-defined car’,” says Virk. “In the past, it was always dedicated hardware to do specific features and functions, be it telephone hands-free or a navigation system. But as things started to converge, modules in cars became one, and you no longer had a separate radio or a separate ‘sat-nav’ unit. You needed an operating system for them to run. Now the software is defining the current and the future of vehicles.”

This convergence has resulted in a new class of vehicles, generally called CASE (or ACES), which refers to connected, autonomous, shared and electric. “That's the vision everyone is going towards because that's where the consumer demand is,” says Virk. “Cars have become a hub where you feel comfortable on road trips, but also you want to be entertained.” While comfort and amusement may play a growing role in buyers’ decisions, they still take a back seat to matters of safety and security where manufacturers are concerned. These are primary reasons OEMs choose BlackBerry® safety-certified RTOS offerings, which they rely on to “make cars communicate with one another via software in a safe and secure way,” says Virk. BlackBerry IVY enables a further advance, “where we can bring partners in and abstract some of the complexities that existed in the past, and allow vehicle ownership to change and adapt over time.”

It’s a very different proposition from 10, or even five years ago,” Virk says, when “you bought a car, and its features and functions would remain the same throughout its lifetime, be it 10 or 15 years. But now, with some of the things that we are enabling with our partners and BlackBerry IVY, the car software can modify and add new experiences and new functionality – for servicing, for knowing the charging state of the car, or even ideas we haven't thought about today.” By making automotive sensor data from the vehicle available safely and securely, BlackBerry IVY offers an unprecedented opportunity to carmakers and their partners to “create something new,” according to Virk.

“It's a change in culture and how you develop vehicles,” Virk says. “One of the visions I worked on in a previous project was around the idea that I want a vehicle that gives me what I need, when I need it. Now it is moving to wanting something to happen for me seamlessly.”

“I don't want to have to think about it. The car should have the intelligence to work that out. It knows my regular journeys because I've allowed my permissions for the car and the technology behind it to know that. If there's traffic on my normal commute, it should know about it and alert me to take a different route.” In fact, “These are some of the things that are possible today,” says Virk.

“But then as we go forward, it's also about adapting other things. For example, if I drive from the UK to Italy, when I cross the border, it can change settings, such as miles to kilometers, the (direction of travel moving) from one side to the other – but the car actually knows where it is. All these things could be automated.” It could also take care of tolls in different countries as the journey progresses.

“If we live in this connected world, all that friction can be taken away from me so I can get to my destination safer, quicker, maybe with some autonomous features on those boring, mundane highways. If I didn't want to take my car, maybe I could fly somewhere and borrow another vehicle and have all my settings and preferences follow me.”

Giving drivers the options to use their vehicles the way they want is central to Virk’s vision, particularly when it comes to self-driving capabilities. “As we progress, we're going to see further levels of autonomy where you can give the car full control, but there are always times where you want to drive as well,” says Virk. “It's about giving choice to users.”

Having a vibrant ecosystem built on a solid core is the main enabling factor. “It's all about diversity,” says Virk. “It's about giving choice in different domains. With BlackBerry IVY, we are bringing the foundation of a vehicle-first cloud platform that allows data from the vehicle to be shared safely and securely. Connectivity is clearly a key backbone where the car can communicate to the infrastructure, to the cloud, and so forth.”

The result for drivers will be cars that evolve and deliver exciting new experiences all the time, throughout the ownership cycle. “Wouldn't it be amazing if the car that you drive is regularly updated and made relevant to you with not just what you want today, but what you want tomorrow too?” asks Virk. “This changes customer perception, but it also changes the opportunity for OEMs and the tech companies.” The opportunity that it creates is potentially huge.

Listen to Episode 6 of “Get In: The Connected Vehicle Podcast from BlackBerry.
 


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Podcast Transcript

Steve Kovsky:

Hi, welcome to Get In: The Connected Vehicle Podcast from BlackBerry. I'm your host, Steve Kovsky. And with this series, we'll be diving into what the future of transportation just might look like. I've got a guest today who I'm proud to call a colleague, and he's been involved in the automotive industry since the time most of us were still playing with Hot Wheels. I'll let him introduce himself.

Peter Virk:

Thanks, Steve. Hi. Peter Virk, the Vice President of IVY for both product and ecosystem at BlackBerry. 

Steve Kovsky:

Peter, I've got a feeling that if we cut you, you would bleed motor oil instead of blood. So give us a sense of how you started on all of this.

Peter Virk:

Steve, that's a possibility. I would say motor oil with some chipsets maybe and some soldering, as I'd like to bring tech and automotive together. I guess my journey started pretty much when I was in high school. Early into my teens I had a passion for cars and used to spend most of my holidays or summer holidays with my uncle repairing some of his vehicles, Ford Fiestas, Ford Escorts, and so forth. Then my journey started on, “Hey, what am I going to do when I finish high school? What are the next steps?” For me, it had to be cars. That was it. I was sold. That was my dream. And I was very fortunate to go onto an apprenticeship with a company called Rover Group back then in 1995. That started my journey of education, further education, and hands-on automotive experience. 

Back then cars were quite different, more traditional, and not so much technology in them, but the great driving machines they are today. If I think back that's over 25 years ago. How things have changed.  I've been very fortunate to be on that journey to see cars change and make them become safer, more technological, but also greater environments to be in. I've been very lucky to be part of that story and that tradition as it's carried on to where we are today.

Steve Kovsky:

And it's become a global story because of the trajectory that that car maker took over the years and the ownership that really moved around the world. Tell us a little bit about the changes that you saw occurring within your part of the automotive industry.

Peter Virk

That's a good point you raised. A funny story I've shared with many friends and colleagues is I worked for one company or one contract for 25 years, but many different companies during that period. When I first started, Rover Group had just been taken over by BMW Group back then. And it was Rover cars, a British car company who owned Land Rover and that iconic brand Mini, those traditional Minis that we used to see on the road. And we merged those pieces together, shared technology and engineering, but then in 2000 it changed.

BMW decided it was going to change things. So BMW held onto the Mini brand. Rover Group was sold onto a different division. And then Land Rover, the four by four aspect, actually got sold to Ford. Then through the Ford ownership, they owned Jaguar at that time, they merged Jaguar and Land Rover together.

And during those days they had this division of Ford called PAG, premier automotive group, where we had brands like Lincoln, Aston Martin, Volvo, and obviously Jaguar Land Rover. I was very fortunate to work on some of those cars. In fact, I remember one of my roles where I was an engineer on navigation systems. I spent many, many, many, many weeks, and months in Gothenberg in Sweden working with some of my Swedish colleagues back then. And that was a great, fantastic time where we were applying technology, not only to Jaguar Land Rover vehicles, but also across the Ford family.

Then things changed further on as timelines moved on around 2008, 2009, where Ford decided it wanted to sell Jaguar Land Rover to Tata Motors. So Tata motors acquired JLR or Jaguar Land Rover, and the journey had another spring in its step. And that's probably the one that people remember the most, the iconic Range Rover Evoke. The small SUV came out. Jaguar cars had a new icon. It was the Jaguar F-Pace where many of the Jaguar vehicles then spun off with that DNA. And then it was the new face of many Land Rovers and Range Rovers, including many cars that we see today, like the new Range Rover Velar and so forth. Really an exciting time. 

That was quite special for me personally because I got into a role where I could make a difference. We managed to do many world firsts; world first in-car fuel payment, working with companies like camera technologies, like GoPro to integrate software into vehicles. An absolutely exciting place to be where we could apply our vision, but bring that into the modern age of how can we create a new, connected car experience into the future? I look back at the last 10 years and was an absolute awesome time.

Steve Kovsky:

I think a lot of people might be listening to that and wondering how did you end up at BlackBerry because they don't know BlackBerry is so involved in the automotive industry. Tell us a little bit about why you took that perhaps unusual step in your career.

Peter Virk

Well, I've known BlackBerry since probably about 2010 when BlackBerry obviously had handsets and there was Bluetooth technology. But there also was the QNX piece, right? The QNX part of BlackBerry, which was the operating system that's in many cars today. And I think even now it's in over 195 million vehicles and it's not something that most people would necessarily be aware of. Working for an OEM, we had a relationship with BlackBerry, the QNX part, and it was kind of where you've heard the term, "the software-defined car" really began. You had hardware and in the past it was always dedicated hardware to do specific features and functions, be it a telephone hands-free navigation system.

But then as things started to converge, modules in cars became one; you no longer had a separate radio, a separate sat-nav unit, or a separate tuner. They became one. You needed an operating system for them to run. And this brought us to where we are now, where you may have heard the term, "the software-defined car," because it's the software that's defining the current and the future of vehicles.

And that made me join BlackBerry. It was that excitement. My journey also went from mechanical engineering back when I was a young boy and my late teens, to bringing technology with early entertainment systems, satellite navigation systems, and then the overall entertainment, but also the connected car experience where we were connecting mobile phones with the vehicles. And it was about bringing that.

And how do I drive and accelerate that vision and dream? I've been very fortunate to put in place and take that to a wider industry, not just one OEM, but for many OEMs and take some of that learning and apply it into different companies and different segments and also new partners because one of the things I believe in is partnerships are key. When you combine technology to work better together with partners, you create or unlock this new level of innovation. And that's what excited me and it linked it back to IVY, the thing I'm working on now.

Steve Kovsky:

Which really is pushing a new generation of not just car electronics, because cars are the electronics. You can't really pull those pieces apart and anymore. Give us a sense of what this is going to enable. What is your vision for a world where IVY is running in our vehicles, in our transportation systems? We're driving through smart cities. We've got connected cars and roads. And where does this lead? 

Peter Virk:

Well, if you think about what many automotive companies have been talking about the term of CASE or ACES, predominantly the same thing, it's autonomous connected electrified and shared mobility. That's the vision where everyone's going toward because that's what the consumer demand is. I think what we've seen is how we use cars has massively changed and they've become much safer and they've become a hub where you want to feel comfortable when you go on those road trips, but also you want to be entertained. And that has brought and emerged, the opportunity and ability to change what an experience is. If you think about how we used to use cars 10, 15 years ago and how we can use them now, a lot has changed because of these collaborations and partnerships with a number of tech companies getting together.

What we are doing and what we are trying to bring to the market is how we can make these cars communicate, talk to one another with software in a safe and secure way where we can actually allow and bring partners in and abstract some of the complexities that existed in the past and allow vehicle ownership to change and adapt to the modern time. And if you think about our lives, our lives are also made up from things that we do at home. I want to use that digital, personal assistant. I want that streaming music. You want those things when you're in the car, as well as when you're on foot.

So it's bringing that mobile, connected world together, but making sure it's safe, making sure it's easy to use, but also that you don't limit the potential of the future. Now you've got cars talking to smartphones, so you can communicate with them. Electric vehicles are here--where you can connect them to the charging infrastructure. You can do frictionless payment. And it's about bringing a community, an ecosystem is the term I normally use, of partners together to unlock that potential of what consumers will want, not necessarily just today, but also for the life of the car. 

And just to finish one additional piece on that is when we used to buy a car, historically, if I was to wind back five or 10 years ago, you bought a car and you would leave the dealership, and its features and functions would remain the same throughout the life of the car, be it 10, 15 years. But now with the technology we've got through software and some of the things that we are enabling with our partners and IVY, is the car can adapt itself where the software can modify and add new experiences, new functionality, be that for servicing, be that for knowing the charging state of the car, or ideas we haven't even thought about today by simply making that data from the vehicle available, safely and securely, and bring new partners who can think of something new, even solutions for different markets.

Steve Kovsky:

It's an exciting future and we're seeing so much flux right now. I've got a child who's purchasing a new car, and the options just are endless. And the cars you can choose from in the used car market are those that are like a time capsule, like my 2012 Chrysler, the last American hard-top convertible, you'll have to pry it from my dying hands, to cars that can be updated overnight. And even a factory recall can take place while you're sleeping. And that car will be updated when you get up in the morning and unplug it. What are some of the issues that OEMs are facing in all of this flux, and how are you to trying to solve those issues?

Peter Virk

It's a really good point you've brought up because it's not just technology that has arrived. It's actually a change in mindset, a change in culture and how you develop vehicles and also the components. Historically, like we said earlier on the call, components were physical modules, but now the differentiation is software and the partners through connectivity that you can achieve that, it comes back to the mindset, automotive has been around us for hundreds of years, in some cases, if you look at some of the early car manufacturers that had cars available, but now it's about adapting it away from the mechanical-centricity to the digital or software-centricity. It's a change in skill sets, a change in people's thinking, in agility, the fact that you can do things or bring things to market much quicker through collaboration, through software or even new technologies.

It's also through how the industry has adapted to consumer needs and demand. One of the visions I worked on in one of my previous projects was always the fact that I want a vehicle that gives me what I want, when I need it. I don't want to have to wait. I want an always on, always connected and then always up to date experience. Well, that's not all possible with electrified vehicles and with connectivity. It's now moving to, I just want something to happen for me seamlessly. I don't want to have to think about it. The car should have the intelligence to work that out. It knows my regular journeys because I've allowed my permissions for the car and the technology behind it to know that. So if there's traffic on my normal commute, it should know about it and alert me to take me a different way.

It knows my music preferences. It knows my personalization. So when I drive the car versus when my wife drives the car, it adapts to her. These are some of the things that are possible today, but then as we go forward, it's also about adapting other things. Every summer I drive from the U.K. to Italy. Great family trip, but because we drive on one side and obviously in mainland Europe, people drive on the other side, when I cross the border, I have to change all these settings; miles to kilometers, the headlights from one side to the other, but actually the car knows where it is. All of these things could be automated.

And then when I drive through France and get into Italy, there are tolls. Well, why do I have to worry about that? If we live in this connected world, all of that friction can be taken away from me so I can get to my destination safer, quicker, maybe with some autonomous features on those boring, mundane highways, but also go into the fast toll booths and just get that notification from the car to say, "Hey, the payment has been made." It would speed up my journey. It would take the friction away from mobility. But if I didn't want to take my car, maybe I could fly somewhere and borrow another vehicle and have all my settings and preferences follow me. That's the world we're in. And they're the things that we can really enable. 

Steve Kovsky:

And I guess another feature will be that if you decide you want to break and you want the car to drive itself, it's perfectly able to do that for you as well.

Peter Virk:

And that's exactly where we're getting to with autonomy, right? We've got cars on the road already today with a level two, level two-plus autonomy, adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, which is helping you and your occupants be safe. And as we progress forward, we're going to see further levels of autonomy where you can give it full control, but there are always times where you want to drive as well. And me personally, I love driving. For me, it's also a great pastime to switch off from the day to day work and have a nice drive on the country road. It's about giving choice --giving choice to users. There are times when you've just got to do that commute and maybe it wants to be on autopilot, but there's also those times where maybe there's a nice autumn day where you just want to take that nice, enjoyable ride, have some great entertaining music and do something different. It's about providing choice and personalization to each individual's needs. 

Steve Kovsky:

Peter, you talked about the importance of an ecosystem and partnerships, and there are some interesting partners involved in IVY, not the ones that would first come to mind as the obvious choices, perhaps, some telecommunications partners, some insurance partners. Tell me a little bit about the coalition that you're putting together.

Peter Virk:

Firstly, it's all about diversity. It's about giving choice and you've got to have choice in different segments or different domains. Because we are bringing the foundation of a vehicle-first cloud platform that actually allows data from the vehicle to be shared safely and securely. This can give partners a richer insight on how they can best offer a service or a product or an offering to either the OEM, the car OEM, or to the end consumer. It's about choice. Connectivity is clearly part of the key backbone infrastructure where the car can connect to the infrastructure, to the cloud computing and so forth. Additional changes with 5G is making that quicker and faster, but also safer for vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-infrastructure for safety emergency services and so on. Users can be notified and it also provides choice. 

I remember when I was a young driver, insurance was very expensive -- when I was 17, 18. And if I, as a young driver can offer, "Hey, it can share how I drive, when I drive, the types of roads I drive on," if that can help me have a lower premium, because they can see my driving style, the times of day and how far I drive, then that gives me, again, an opportunity to bring an insurance solution in that can actually give me a discount. We're bringing providers in that can provide more details around electrification. It's not just about large companies that already exist. It's also startups where they're providing real, great, rich detailed information around the battery and the health and the life of the actual battery. And that gives OEMs great information around life, warranty, service, and repair, but it also provides the end consumer, the driver of the vehicle, rich information about will this car get me to my destination based on my driving style because "Hey, I'm feeling a bit sporty today," or "Hey, I'm just doing the commute tomorrow."

It's giving richer pieces like that. And then we've got other partners who are providing payment solutions for fleets. So again, providing a safe, secure way of sharing vehicle insights to know I've received X kilowatts of charge. And I don't have to worry about credit card transactions because all these systems are interconnected today. So it's diversity. It's innovation for tomorrow for some of the ideas that we are thinking about, but we bring them to, to life tomorrow. And it's about choice. And this is the thing that we're doing with the ecosystem is bringing different segments in and growing that over time to offer a rich experience as it continues to grow further.

Steve Kovsky:

Peter, we've talked about the technological and cultural changes that are reshaping the automotive industry. There's also the area of organizational change, and this can be some of the most difficult stuff because you're dealing with people instead of machines, you've spent so much time within the automotive industry. You've seen how it functions and you've seen the challenges it has ahead. How are they coping with this need to reorganize around these new principles, using both their internal resources and external partners? 

Peter Virk:

There's no shortage of ideas. There's no shortage of innovation. What it comes down to is how can you get this into the market, into the customer hands, as quick as possible and have scale? That's where the challenge is because you still have to do what you've got to to build a car, right? The chassis, the braking systems, the power train, all these elements still need to be done, but this additional layer needs to be added on top.

It's changing the way that you work. We are seeing many automotive companies shift toward agile development, which is more akin to how software is developed even in non-automotive development areas like consumer electronics and bringing this together is a mindset change, but at the same time, you also need scale because if we think from the consumer side, when many new services or apps, are built at large scale, but for a single OEM, it's very difficult to do that based on the volume and the size, and obviously the market reach.

This is why you need industry solutions that can help that. It's about providing an industry solution that can meet many OEMs to provide that base layer of functionality, those insights I talked about earlier around the vehicle, the information, how it can be shared, but also reducing the fragmentation for the ecosystem vendors. Many of these companies, small startups and well-established companies would struggle to do something unique for 25 OEMs globally. However, if you bring this down to a simple interface with an SDK, that's standardized across the industry, it then makes that barrier much easier. And at the same time, OEMs can use that themselves to do reduce their cost, reduce their complexity, but more importantly, bring things to market quicker, safer, and securer. These are the opportunities that are changing. Nobody's really on their own anymore, right? It's about collaborating, doing what is needed that's common, but doing it and having enough space to do, what you need to do--that's unique to add your brand differentiation. That's why we need to change the way that we work and operate.

Steve Kovsky

Finally, Peter, let's talk about why consumers should be really excited about all of the changes that you've outlined and all of the new capabilities and further, why should automakers be excited about the new challenges and opportunities that are coming up?

Peter Virk:

Well, I'll start with the automakers. This technology gives automotive companies, the OEMs, a faster, innovative way of adding technology, but also differentiation. They don't to do everything on their own anymore. They can focus on their value add and the experiences that they want to bring, but also offer differentiation in the different markets they're in, be they North America, South America, Europe, or even Asia. So that's kind of one of the first things, but it also helps them differentiate. It's not just developers and tech companies who can innovate. The OEMs can too, and they can use IVY to build out those new, innovative experiences with software that meets their brand DNA and future aspirations. So that's one aspect.

I think the other aspect is bringing together a community that can work in the automotive space that couldn't before. We with IVY provide a software development kit to bring partners together. We make sure it's safe, secure, but by bringing partners together, these are companies who potentially couldn't bring some of these experiences to life previously because of the different ways of working and the way that models were set up. That's one aspect. 

And then the other thing for the end consumer is excitement. Wouldn't it be amazing where the car that you drive is being updated and is made relevant to you, what you want today and what you want tomorrow? You can enjoy that classic vehicle because you enjoy the drive, you love the style, but the tech needs that you need for it to book the servicing, to add new content or new services, can match what you do at home for entertainment while you're on the move but then also when you're out and about. I think it's bringing these things together that creates the enjoyment, but also the excitement. My vehicle will adapt with me over the life I've got it rather than as it is today. This changes the perception, but it also changes the opportunity for OEMs, the tech companies, but most importantly, the consumer who will have a new experience every so often.

Steve Kovsky:

Well, I'm excited to get behind the wheel of one of these new vehicles. And I'm excited to hear what the next developments are and to see what kind of cars are going to be rolling off the line in one, two, three years as this becomes pervasive throughout the industry. Peter Virk, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a real pleasure to talk to you.

Peter Virk

Thank you.

Steve Kovsky:

Well, that's the end of our episode for today, but if you'd like to get more information on the topics or our guest, check out blackberry.com/podcast and The Connected Vehicle podcast from BlackBerry is available wherever you get your podcast. And don't forget to subscribe to keep up-to-date with our latest episodes.

 

Steve Kovsky

About Steve Kovsky

Steve Kovsky is Editorial Director at BlackBerry.