Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Everything you wanted to know about HTML5 in the car, Part II

Welcome to the second installment in my Q&A series on HTML5 in the car. Last week, we looked at CSS, cross-platform execution, and asynchronous design. This week, we turn our attention to web servers, native plug-ins, instrument clusters, and display updates.

If I don’t use a web server in my infotainment system, will I miss out on some features of HTML5?
A web server isn’t strictly necessary, but there are two very good reasons for including one. First, it lets you export a user interface to devices outside the car, thereby allowing mobile phones or tablets to run apps that are hosted on the vehicle head unit. Second, it lets you export internal car resources, as a URL, to HMI software running in the head unit. For instance, the web server could provide the HMI with access to static vehicle-configuration data (through an xml file) or to a back-up camera (through a video stream).

Will using native code plug-ins compromise my ability to leverage HTML5?
This is tricky, because a lot of things you want to do may require native code. So, yes, use native code, but do it judiciously. The more native code you use, the more it will limit the cross-platform capability of the HTML5 code that relies on it. The good news is that with HTML5 gaining so much functionality, plug-ins are needed far less than ever before.

A sample climate control app from the
QNX CAR 2 platform, created with HTML5.
Would you consider HTML5 as an option for cluster instruments: speedometers, tachometers, etc.?
At this point, I’d say no. HTML5 makes a lot of sense for in-vehicle infotainment, but it doesn’t provide the response needed for a vehicle cluster and it won't ensure safety-critical certification. Plus, the instrument cluster isn’t where you realize a lot of HTML5’s value: downloadable apps, connectivity to mobile devices, and so on. If the cluster and the infotainment system eventually merge into one big screen, then it’s more likely you could use HTML5 for both — but that’s still a few years out.

What’s a good way to get responsive display updates (10Hz update) into HTML5? Websockets?
If you need to deliver high-speed updates to your head unit, Websockets is one way to go. Make sure, however, that you don’t stall the rest of the JavaScript engine while your main thread is blocked on tasks. If you create another thread to monitor for changes, you can do it just as effectively (and probably with less work) with a JNEXT or NPAPI call into native code.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Auto + Mobile

I love this play on words. I can’t claim it as my own but I think it’s very cool that the word automobile breaks down into auto and mobile. I’m sure the term originally referred to automatically mobile horseless-carriages or some such thing. According to one online source, the word dates from 1895 and means “self-propelled motor vehicle”.

But today, it represents the convergence of two historically independent industries, auto and mobile. Now, more than ever, consumers are extending their digital lives into their cars. They want a personalized in-vehicle experience, including access to their music, to their friends, to their favourite places, and to their schedules — both personal and professional. And that’s just the beginning.

Following the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, I heard many in the industry refer to CES as one of the most important automotive shows of the year. You heard that right: CES is now considered an automotive show.

The new QNX concept car is
scheduled to appear at MWC.
Now it’s February and QNX Software Systems is headed to Barcelona where we will demonstrate our connected concept car on the BlackBerry stand in Hall 7 at Mobile World Congress. This same car won a Best of CES award in the car tech category.

MWC is the show for mobile phones and everything related. During the show, we will participate on a luncheon panel hosted by Fierce Markets, Paving the Way to Success for the Connected Car. Other panelists include Ford, AT&T, and the GSMA.

MWC isn’t known as an auto-focused event but I expect this to change. Most carriers see the connected car as an emerging growth market, as do silicon vendors. Meanwhile, handset and car companies work towards improving the integration of the mobile experience into the car without impacting driver distraction.

Auto + Mobile. End of story.

For more info on the panel, click here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

ITU-T: Developing standards to fight driver distraction

The telecommunication standardization sector of the International Telecommunications Union is poised to play a crucial role in tomorrow’s connected cars. And yet, many people in the auto industry have never heard of the ITU, or of its standardization sector, the ITU-T. So let’s start with a quick introduction.

The ITU is the United Nations agency that deals with telecommunications. More specifically, it is where governments come together to agree on international standards for Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).

Currently, the ITU-T is developing recommendations for ICTs that interact with drivers — examples include networked-based navigation systems, web browsers, and mobile phones. These recommendations will apply to networks; to applications accessed by drivers; and to connected, nomadic, and factory-installed devices. Strictly speaking, these recommendations are voluntary, which is precisely why they are referred to as “recommendations.” However, they can become binding if mandated by regional government agencies or customers.

ITU-T recommendations for the car are needed for several reasons:
  • ICTs are moving into the automotive cockpit — Increasingly, ICT systems under the scope of the ITU-T are finding their way into the cockpit and interacting with drivers. Technology-related driver distraction has been recognized as a global problem that needs to be addressed. Internationally agreed guidance on the design and performance of these systems can help increase safety.
  • Easy-to-find guidance for ICT community — ICT designers, developers, and application authors need easy access to guidance on design and performance requirements for ICT systems that interact with drivers. The ICT community consults ITU-T recommendations for guidance and requirements on ICT systems. Therefore, there is real value in having ITU-T recommendations that can serve as a reference to existing driver distraction-related standards and to fill any standardization gaps.
  • Internationally agreed standards — The ITU-T is where governments come together to agree on international telecommunications standards. This is what makes these standards unique. It also gives them more weight with regional Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) and regulatory authorities. There is even value in an ITU-T recommendation that simply references existing standards since it will have gone through the ITU-T approval process.

Focus group on driver distraction
Last year, I became the founding chair for the ITU’s Focus Group on Driver Distraction (FG Distraction), which was created to pull expertise from the automotive industry and human factors experts into the ITU-T standardization process. The group currently has 3 planned ITU-T recommendations related to driver distraction:

G.SAM — recommendation on mechanisms for managing the situational awareness of drivers:


G.V2A — recommendation on an automotive interface (for instance, APIs) for applications external to the vehicle gateway:

P.UIA — recommendation on automotive user interface requirements:

FG Distraction will finalize pulling together input from industry and human factors experts by December 2012. Approved ITU-T recommendations are not expected until late 2013.

Want to contribute?
If you’d like to participate in FG Distraction, the group is open to any individual from a country that is a member of ITU and who is willing to contribute to the work (which is just about everyone). This includes anyone who is also a member or representative of an interested SDO. There is no cost to participate.

For more information about FG Distraction and upcoming meetings, click here. The next meeting will take place on April 4-5 at the SAE Headquarters in Troy, Michigan, USA.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Everything you wanted to know about HTML5 in the car, Part I

My HTML5 webinar generated a lot of interesting dialog about what HTML5 means for in-vehicle systems. People asked questions about everything from security and performance to WebGL and cross-platform execution. Many of the same questions come up with when I speak with customers and analysts, which got me to thinking: Why not address them in this blog?

So without further ado, here is the first of my "FAQs" on HTML5 in the car. If you have a question and you don’t see it answered here, leave a comment and let me know! I’ll try my best to answer it in a future post.

How can you create multiple in-vehicle user interfaces using a single HTML5 code base?
The key to achieving this is the Cascading Style Sheets language, or CSS.

CSS controls the look and feel of web pages, but it can also be used to control the look and feel of a vehicle head unit. By changing a single CSS file, you can, for example, change all the fonts and background colors in a website (or head unit) from Arial and white to Verdana and black.

Mind you, CSS does much more than that. It also lets you specify how individual tags in HTML documents are displayed: layout, margins, sizes, colors, behavioral characteristics, events, and so on. Consider, for example, a phone app accessed through the vehicle head unit. If that app provides an HTML5-based user interface, each OEM could provide a default CSS that controls how the app looks on the head unit, adapting the app to meet in-vehicle usability standards and, of course, branding it.

A sample app from the QNX CAR 2 application
platform, created with HTML5
Let’s say your phone has an HTML5 navigation app that you want to run in your Audi today and your Chevy tomorrow. Although the phone serves up the app content identically in both cases, the Audi system can use a CSS to ensure that the app looks ‘Audi-like’, with that distinctive black and silver coloring, and the Chevy system can use a CSS that gives it the app the look-and-feel of OnStar. In effect, CSS can give the OEM more control over brought-in applications than other types of ‘screen replication’ technologies, like MirrorLink or iPod Out.

Keep in mind, though, that CSS can’t solve different OEM input philosophies, such as touch, hardkey, softkey and so on. You could use CSS to change the appearance for different inputs, but you would still need to have JavaScript hooking things up underneath.

You mentioned that cross-platform execution is a key benefit of HTML5. Do you have any recommendations on how to implement it?
Cross-platform execution is definitely something you want to keep in mind when designing software for vehicle head units. If you’re careful to ensure your app avoids features specific to the embedded environment, you can use mobile and embedded apps with the same HTML5 code base. It shouldn’t be difficult to make sure your app runs in both environments, but it’s better to plan for this going into design. That way, you can avoid using anything that prohibits cross-platform execution.

Could HTML5 replace the current HMI systems in head units that support multiple applications, and still be event driven and asynchronous in nature?
Definitely. JavaScript in HTML5 supports the concept of separate threads, called workers, that can handle events asynchronously. Although workers have some restrictions, such as the inability to modify the Document Object Model (DOM) or access globals, they should still be able to handle most asynchronous events. Maximum flexibility may require additional support from the HTML5 engine. To that end, QNX Software Systems has invested a lot of time in improving WebKit to allow code to run in separate engine web views, in different threads, in different processes, and even in completely independent HTML5 engine instances.

Stay tuned for Part II, where I plan to tackle questions on web browsers, web servers, and instrument clusters.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Which QNX concept car would you rather drive?

Paul Leroux
Last year, my QNX colleagues created a concept car out of a Chevy Corvette. This year, they created one out of a Porsche 911 Carrera. Both cars are tricked out with cool QNX-based infotainment systems, though the systems in the Porsche, being newer, are decidedly more sophisticated and forward looking.

But let's ignore the infotainment features for a moment. If you had an opportunity to drive both cars at full throttle, which do you think you'd prefer?

I've yet to drive the Porsche, and I haven't had a chance to red-line either car. So realistically, I couldn't begin to draw a comparison between the two. In any case, the old saw about comparing apples to oranges quickly comes to mind. But for anyone who likes shoot-outs between raw American power and refined European performance, here's a new Motor Trend video that pits a Corvette Grand Sport against a 911 Carrera S. These aren't the exact same models used by QNX, but it's a great head-to-head video nonetheless:

So, tell me, are you a Corvette man (or woman)? Or are you 911 the way? And did the video change your mind any?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mark your calendars: FOTA webinar this week

Paul Leroux
A heads-up that, in two days, QNX Software Systems and Red Bend will deliver a webinar on keeping connected cars up to date with Firmware Over-the-Air (FOTA) technology.

Here's a summary of the webinar:

    The connected car is revolutionizing the automotive industry. It brings together wireless connectivity, IP communications infrastructure, middleware and applications to transform the driving experience. Yet as the amount and the complexity of software inside cars increases, so too does the need to update the software in order to provide new functionality and perform software maintenance. To help streamline these activities, OEMs can use proven firmware over-the-air (FOTA) updating technology to deliver software improvements efficiently and reliably.

    Please join QNX Software Systems and Red Bend Software as they present how QNX CAR 2 application platform supports the latest advancements in performing over-the-air software management and application updates in connected cars.

And here are the coordinates:

The folks delivering the webinar are Yoram Berholtz from Red Bend Software, an industry leader in FOTA, and my inimitable colleague Andy Gryc. If you can't catch the webinar — or even if you can catch the webinar — I invite you to check out Andy's article on the Red Bend website, Fill the Tank, Check the Oil, and Update the Software.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Do the 1/4 mile in 9.1 secs and win a '59 El Camino

Paul Leroux
I must confess, I have the attention span of a gnat. Watching movies? Forget it. I'm too restless. Same goes for watching baseball, hockey, or any other popular game sport. They all take too long to come to an end.

Compare these to drag racing. It's a sport of many shorter outcomes, most of which are decided in 10 seconds or less. Which may explain why I watched the entire 11 minutes of this video of the 1959 national drag racing championship. Of course, it didn't hurt that the soundtrack consists mainly of roaring engines — I'm a sucker for a blown V8 in full cry.

Among other things, you'll notice there's no Christmas tree; the countdowns were performed by a live human being. Other highlights include a trophy for the safest dragster (seriously?), Art Arfons establishing a new track speed record, and a grand prize of a 1959 El Camino. In case you didn't know, Art held the world land-speed record three times during the mid 60s. And if you're really into trivia, note that GM introduced the Camino in 1959 in response to the success of the Ford Ranchero.

Okay, enough of that. Roll the tape...

And hey, did you notice? People were way thinner back then.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

OnStar Interview: Standards, HTML5, and the OEM

Have you ever explained to your kids why the solid rocket boosters on the Space Shuttle are the width of two Roman warhorses standing side-by-side? If you haven’t, I suggest you do. The incredulous looks are well worth it. For additional bonus laughter from the younger crowd, you may want to add in the fact that we’re talking about the rear ends of horses.

What this little bit of trivia does for us, the 'older' crowd, is offer a lesson in standardization. A set of specs, rules, measurements, and so on can have long-lasting repercussions. And so, on the one hand, it behooves us to choose wisely; while on the other hand, it reminds us about the importance of being open to change.

Steve Schwinke, director of advanced technology for OnStar, is among a growing number of industry leaders who believe that HTML5 has the potential to dramatically change our industry for the better. Steve believes in strength in numbers and has great faith in the OEM community to work together to help shape the standard and promote its widespread adoption.

Here’s what Steve had to say about HTML5 when we visited him in Detroit just before the holidays in December.

This interview of Steve Schwinke is the fifth in a series from QNX on HTML5.