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Apple on the rob; Google in a spin; Uber jumping red lights

There looks to be a backbone behind the groupthink that Apple is staying in the autonomous car game, as the company has apparently poached dozens of BlackBerry’s QNX software engineers to work on an automotive operating system project in Ottawa – not five minutes’ from QNX HQ. Mapping firm Here has also reportedly been a victim of the same aggressive tactics.

Hunting down the engineers behind what is considered the industry’s most successful IVI system, as well as engineers responsible for mapping technology that was snapped up by Audi, BMW and Daimler, demonstrates Apple’s ambitions to transition to a software player in autonomous cars, rather than hardware. However, with Apple being Apple, a company which is stuck in a period void of innovation, who knows if an autonomous sofa project is just around the corner.

Blackberry’s QNX operating system is used in various IVI (in-vehicle infotainment) technology platforms in the vehicles of major manufacturers, and is the industry leader. QNX has expanded beyond its core real-time operating system (RTOS) business in recent times – developing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in partnership with its long-term partner Intel.

Blackberry claims QNX deployments in 60 million vehicles on the road, some 10 million of which rolled out within the last year – with a customer list of industry titans including Ford, GM, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi, Jaguar, Maserati, Honda, Hyundai, and BMW.

This potential shift makes much more sense for Apple, harnessing its extensive existing ecosystem to lock in its loyal fan base to its Apple CarPlay IVI product and the co-pilot system that accommodates it, by teaming up with car manufacturers – instead of spending cash on developing the autonomous vehicles themselves.

Bitter rival Google could also be heading in the same direction, with conflicting reports emerging this week that it could be scrapping its autonomous cars to focus on driving software collaborations with automakers, or whether it will continue to pursue its control-less bubble-looking car project.

Google announced that it is spinning out its X-Lab unit to become the Waymo division inside parent company Alphabet. Waymo’s CEO John Krafcik said at a press conference that the company’s focus will be on the self-driving technology not the vehicles, citing applications such as trucking, ride-sharing and logistics – somewhat implying that it isn’t pursuing vehicle manufacturing directly.

Not wanting to be excluded from the autonomous vehicle news, Uber has launched a fleet of self-driving Volvo XC90 cars in San Francisco this week. “Starting today, riders who request an UberX in San Francisco will be matched with a self-driving Uber if one is available,” said an Uber blog post.

However, the following day, the roll out was overshadowed by a viral video showing a self-driving Uber jumping a red light in, with a bemused pedestrian seen probably regretting not taking his opportunity for a huge payout.

This was apparently not the only case of the vehicles spotted misbehaving, so Uber was then ordered to remove its vehicles from the road by the California Department of Motor Vehicles until it had obtained the correct permit. Notably, the video was captured and posted by a taxi company called Luxor – a sweet act of revenge, and perhaps too coincidental an occurrence that might suggest the local taxi company may have been looking to catch Uber out, as leverage.

The California DMV stamped its foot down, “We have a permitting process in place to ensure public safety as this technology is being tested. Twenty manufacturers have already obtained permits to test hundreds of cars on California roads. Uber shall do the same.”

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