Thursday, November 17, 2011

The need for green in automotive

The need for environmentally friendly practices and products has become so painfully obvious in recent years that it’s no longer possible to call it a debate or a controversy. Nowhere is this more conspicuous than in the automotive industry.

Working at QNX has given me insight into just how complex the problem is and how going green in automotive is not going to be a revolution. I've come to realize that it will require a good number of players on a large number of fronts.

An example of what happens when
your car takes way too long to boot. :-)
What we at QNX are doing to move the cause forward is called fast booting. Some operating systems take up to 60 seconds to boot. Can you imagine getting in your car, turning the ignition, and waiting a minute for your radio to work? Me either.

To prevent such undignified delays, these systems typically do not power down completely. Instead, they suspend to RAM while the vehicle is off. This lets the system boot ‘instantly’ whenever the ignition turns over. But because there’s a small current draw to keep RAM alive, this trickle continually drains the battery. This might have minimal consequences today (other than cost to the manufacturer, which is a whole other story) but in the brave new world of electric and hybrid cars, battery capacity equals mileage. Typical systems thus shorten the range of green vehicles and, in the case of hybrids, force drivers to use not-so-green systems more often. More importantly perhaps, these systems give would-be buyers ‘range anxiety’. Indeed, according to the Green Market’s Richard Matthews, battery life is one of the top reasons the current adoption rate is so low.

A little-known feature of QNX technology helps solve this problem.

Architects using the QNX OS can organize the boot process to bring up complex systems in a matter of seconds. Ours is not an all-or-nothing proposition as it is with monolithic operating systems that must load an entire system before anything can run – Windows and Linux are prime examples. QNX supports a gradual phasing in of system functionality to get critical systems up and running while it loads less-essential features in the background. A QNX-based system can start from a cold boot every time. Which means no battery drain while the car is off.

And while this is no giant leap for mankind it is certainly a solid step in the right direction. If the rest of us (consumers, that is) contributed similarly by trading in our clunkers for greener wheels, the industry could undoubtedly move forward in leaps and bounds. I suppose this means I’m going to have to take a long hard look at my 2003 Honda Civic.

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