Monday, November 21, 2011

Pimp your ride with augmented reality — Part I

The use of electronics is exploding in automotive. Just last week, Intel proclaimed that the connected car “is the third-fastest growing technological device, following smartphones and tablets.”

Ten years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find a 32-bit processor in your car. Now, some cars have 4 or more 32 bitters: one in the radio, another in the telematics module, yet another in the center display, and still another in the rear-seat system.

Heck, in newer cars, you’ll even find one in the digital instrument cluster — the QNX-powered cluster in the Range Rover, for example. Expect to see a similar demand for more compute power in engine control units, drive-by-wire systems, and heads-up displays.

The Range Rover cluster displays virtual speedometers and gauges, as well as warnings, suspension settings, and other info, all on a dynamically configurable display.

What do most of these systems have in common? The need to process tons of information, from both inside and outside of the vehicle, and to present key elements of that data in a safe, contextually relevant, and easy-to-digest fashion.

The next generation of these systems will be built on the following principles:

  • Fully integrated cockpits — Vehicle manufacturers see system consolidation as a way to cut costs and reduce complexity, as well as to share information between vehicle systems. For instance, your heads-up display could discreetly let you know who is calling you, without forcing you to take your eyes off of the road. And it could do this even if the smarts integrating your phone and your car reside in another cockpit component — the telematics module, say.
  • Augmented reality — With all of the data being generated from phones, cloud content services and, perhaps more importantly, the vehicle itself, presenting the right information at the right time in a safe way will become a major challenge. This is where augmented reality comes in.

Augmented reality is a cool use of cameras, GPS, and data to create smart applications that overlay a virtual world on top of the real world. Here are some of my favorite examples:

AR Starbucks cups — Use your phone to make your coffee cup come alive:

AR Starwars — Blast the rebel alliance squirrels!

AR postage stamp — Add a new dimension (literally) to an everyday object:

And here are a couple more for good measure:

AR ray gun — Blast aliens around the house!

Wikitude AR web browser — Explore the world around you while overlaying social networks, images, video, reviews, statistics, etc.

Stay tuned for my next post, where I will explore how AR could enhance the driving experience for both drivers and passengers — Andrew.


  1. Hi, I'm Michael from the PlayBook Moon Landing team at McMaster University. Just wondering if NASA's Curiosity Mars rover runs on QNX? Thanks.

  2. Good question, Michael. I'll do some digging and let you know if I find anything out. - Paul Leroux, QNX Team Auto

  3. Thanks. I went through Curiosity's spec sheet on and it didn't mention which OS it is.

  4. The space shuttle did and the iss does run QNX, so its very very possible.

  5. Curiosity doesn't run QNX, from what I understand. But the NASA team's choice of OS for the rover was probably made a long, long time ago. By way of reference, the rover's 2 megapixel camera was spec'd in 2004! - Paul