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OTTAWA, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Canada's BlackBerry Ltd plans to invest C$100 million ($75 million) in a new autonomous vehicle-testing hub over several years, the company's chief executive said on Monday, marking a change of direction for the smartphone pioneer.
"Most of all the money will go to jobs," John Chen told reporters at an event opening the Ottawa-area facility.
The company, which is racing to increase its software revenue as its handset unit and related legacy service access fees shrink, hopes to make itself an indispensable, under-the-hood piece of the automotive industry's weaponry in the self-driving vehicle arms race.
BlackBerry said it will work with middleware supplier PolySync and semiconductor company Renesas Electronics Corp , as well as its hometown University of Waterloo, to build an autonomous concept vehicle.
The company's Toronto-listed shares rose nearly 4 percent to a one-month high.
Chen said the company may hire over several years as many as 650 engineers, each earning about C$150,000 annually.
Adding that many positions would boost the company's annual payroll by nearly C$100 million, or all of Blackberry's planned investment over several years.
The company's QNX unit, renamed BlackBerry QNX, employs around 400 engineers, some three-quarters of them at its facility in Kanata on the outskirts of Ottawa.
BlackBerry has about 5,000 employees in total.
While the embedded operating system market is likely to grow quickly as autonomous driving takes off, BlackBerry faces numerous competitive threats, including from independent embedded operating system producer Green Hills Software as well as chipmakers such as Intel Corp.
It must also convince system integrators including former QNX owner Harman International Industries Inc that its offering is compelling.
$1 = 1.3392 Canadian dollars Reporting by Alastair Sharp in Ottawa; editing by Rod Nickel