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Software-defined driving experience: Q&A with BlackBerry SVP Sarah Tatsis

Judy Lin, DIGITIMES, Taipei 0

Credit: BlackBerry

BlackBerry and AWS formed a partnership in 2020 to launch BlackBerry IVY, a new intelligent vehicle data platform that provides automakers a consistent and secure way to analyze the in-vehicle information, and further use the information to create services for drivers to enhance the driving experience. Sarah Tatsis, BlackBerry SVP talked to DIGITIMES to comment on this collaboration and BlackBerry IVY's future development.

Q: BlackBerry and AWS announced to jointly develop BlackBerry IVY, a vehicle data platform. Could you give us the background of the coming together of the two very important players in the technology space and in what way BlackBerry collaborates with AWS?

A: BlackBerry and AWS share a common vision, which is to provide automakers and developers with better insights. With that, they can deliver new services to consumers. We've been trusted to deliver software in automotive in-vehicle systems for over 20 years and AWS has been delivering cloud services to automotive customers for quite some time as well.

In a sense, BlackBerry QNX has been providing software to the Automakers for systems "in the car" and AWS has been providing back-end services for automakers' IT systems that are interfacing "to the car." We realized that our strength is in the embedded systems and mobile solutions and their (AWS') strength are in the cloud component and services side. Together, we've combined our strengths to deliver cloud-connected, cross-platform, in-vehicle software that enables an automaker-controlled digital ecosystem on a global scale.

At its core, IVY is an edge-to-cloud software platform that allows for dynamic deployment and utilization of vehicle data. BlackBerry IVY simplifies and accelerates how automakers use data to understand how their vehicles are used and can be improved; and enable software developers to create enhanced solutions, applications, and experiences. IVY will give all makes and models of vehicles the ability to speak the same language, seamlessly share their data to create new services. The real-time data insights created by IVY allow for next-level improvements in vehicle operations & safety, personalization, autonomous-driving systems, and new business opportunities.

Q: You have a mathematic background, and are now a key person for the IVY data development. Could you explain in plain words how your technologies work and how ICT companies or maybe EV platforms such as MIH can work with you?

A: Yes, I do have a keen interest in math. I started university in the applied math side and very quickly transitioned to the statistics side as I realized the power of both in solving real-world business problems. It is interesting to see how things come full circle. BlackBerry IVY is a software platform that enables machine learning, which uses concepts from statistics, calculus, probability, and linear algebra, to run inside the vehicle. It collects data from across the vehicle systems and analyzes it to make it usable for automakers and software developers, to power applications both on the vehicle and in the cloud.

BlackBerry IVY addresses the fact that vehicles today are probably the most complex edge devices. They have multiple sensors and multiple components processing what's happening both in the vehicle and its environment.

What BlackBerry IVY does is take enormous data from all those sensors in the vehicle and provides a common platform or common understanding of the data that come from all those sensors. And then it provides a safe place for executing the machine-learning codes on the edge in the vehicle, to be able to provide those insights to in-vehicle applications or into the cloud. It has a cloud interface and APIs that can be used by an automaker or its partner(s) to deploy and update code and manage data-access rights. It also has development tools to enable application developers to easily interact with vehicle data using standard, reusable and familiar methods.

Many different companies would like to be able to use that capability to provide great consumer services, or services in the smart city, etc. The ecosystem that we are driving here, is an ecosystem of broad developers that can create new experiences. IVY will make it easy for non-embedded developers to create new experiences without having to know how the full vehicle architecture works, and work with automakers to provide services and new experiences that are valuable to end customers.

BlackBerry Ivy diagram

BlackBerry Ivy diagram

Q: That sounds like a plug-and-play kind of thing that makes it easy for developers to do their own APIs/SDKs using BlackBerry IVY as a foundation?

A: Yes, we are making sure that it is easy for developers to use IVY. IVY abstracts all of the hardware uniqueness of the vehicle so that when you are developing your applications or new machine-learning models, you don't need to know all of the details of the sensors within that vehicle. You just need to call those APIs and create really interesting use cases.

Q: Taiwan's strength is on the hardware side. There are many companies that manufacture ICT components or devices. In what way can they collaborate with you? Also, since Foxconn is supporting a platform called MIH, which is an electric vehicle platform, is there any possibility for collaboration between them and BlackBerry IVY?

A: The vehicle is a complex edge device in a broader ecosystem of devices capable of providing new services to consumers and citizens. We also see the same need for abstraction in all IoT, so that people can make use of all components and devices that are out there to deliver great software and service experiences. And, as you said, there are quite a few hardware manufacturing companies in Taiwan that can be part of that ecosystem.

BlackBerry worked with Foxconn to successfully develop and manufacture two of our smartphone devices. It is still early days in terms of partnerships, but I do see great potential for partnerships in this space, especially as investments in connectivity, autonomous driving, and electrification increase.

Q: What are the use cases of BlackBerry Ivy is delivering to the market? Could you explain your user scenes?

A: Sure, I can give an example of how an application can be built that consumes insights from IVY. With machine learning models deployed in the IVY platform, IVY can identify specific users in real-time based on their current driving behavior. This information can then be used to personalize the driving experience, for instance, play the driver's favorite music or give a driver-specific battery range estimate.

The real-time data insights created by IVY allow for next-level improvements in many different areas, including in-vehicle operations & safety, personalization, autonomous-driving systems, and new business opportunities. IVY will provide a platform for new innovation.

We have also recently announced two investments from our $50 million IVY Innovation Fund for startups. One is Electra Vehicles, which takes data from the vehicle, battery, and environment and provides battery insights, and optimizes the battery range using machine learning. The other is CarIQ, which provides the ability for the vehicle to pay for fuel or for charging. We can see a very broad and diverse ecosystem being built around IVY.

Q: Has BlackBerry been developing ADAS? Do you think truly autonomous driving will be realized in 5 years?

A: It is a complex situation. We will see various levels of autonomy developed over time. Some vehicles are much closer to autonomous driving at this point of time, particularly where the vehicle does not access public roads. I think there is a long way to go before we get there for consumer vehicles. By continuing in the connected vehicle space, adding levels of autonomy as we go, we do see that BlackBerry IVY could be a part of the ADAS system. We also see that IVY could be deployed as part of the digital cockpit, for instance, different types of vehicle computing units (VCUs), consolidated ECUs, and high-performance computing platforms. That is quite flexible as well. With the system we are building we do see it could be put into different domains within a vehicle.

As for the autonomy question, I think it also depends on regulations and other factors. But we certainly are going to see a lot of innovation in the next couple of years, not only in technology but also in business models and new experiences, things we have not thought of yet.

Q: Cyber security is important nowadays. In a previous interview, you said that "the data that drives AI and machine-learning is only useful and safe if it cannot be compromised." How does BlackBerry IVY protect cyber security?

A: We are hitting something where BlackBerry has a unique position. Over the last 35 years, BlackBerry has been focused on building very secure, mobile solutions. A lot of that technology and know-how will flow into IVY's technology roadmap. BlackBerry is very unique in having those 35 years of experience in building secure solutions both from the supply chain all the way up and into the application layers, also through various acquisitions such as BlackBerry Cylance, a company using AI to detect malware. The breadth of security breaches continues to grow, and this is going to grow into the IoT space as well. We see this coming, and we will see many, many more breaches of these types of systems. From the malware perspective, we are seeing one hundred million new pieces of malware every year. The scope and explosion of cyber security attacks are just enormous. When we think about vehicles now being connected to the internet, the need for safety and security will be paramount. It's one thing to have a compromise on your smartphones, maybe there is a financial loss or lost privacy, but a compromise on a vehicle is another story. What we need to remain focused on is to prevent cyber security threats and build the IVY system as sound and secure as possible. The only way we are going to be successful in the innovations that we've just talked about is to build a system people can trust. That investment needs to happen now, as these technologies are being built, in order to enable that bright future and great experiences.

[Editor Note: BlackBerry, originally known as Research in Motion (RIM), developed the BlackBerry brand of interactive pagers, smartphones, and tablets. Through years of strategic acquisitions, it has transitioned to a cybersecurity enterprise software and services company by using artificial intelligence and machine learning against cyberthreats. QNX Software Systems was acquired by BlackBerry in 2010 and served as the foundation for BlackBerry platform.]

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