Friday, April 27, 2012

Living the Networked Life in New York City

Derek Kuhn
Last week, we demonstrated our latest concept car, built on a Porsche 911 Carrera S, at AT&T’s Living the Networked Life Event in New York City. The car has been on the road since we unveiled it at CES — it even went to Spain for MWC. We ran out of time to ship it to New York, so Mark Rigley, manager of the concept development group at QNX, and I drove it from Ottawa to SoHo. It was my first time driving the Porsche anywhere outside of a ball room, and it turned out to be a great drive.

Mark is super protective of the car, as he’s entitled to be, and he and the team have done a great job putting it together. But wouldn’t you know it? He let me drive and, as I’m pulling off Interstate 81 in Cortland NY, we get rear-ended. No — for real. I pull over, Mark jumps out, and I’m checking the side mirror to open the door safely in traffic but I’m mortified. Turns out that the Porsche’s rear valance is strong like a bull, and we emerge with just a series of scuff marks.

We drove through Binghamton, Scranton, and Poconos to get to the city. Traffic got faster and denser as we entered New Jersey, but Mark, to my surprise, let me drive again! We arrived at the hotel and handed the car off to a professional detailer before it was parked on site.

After setting up the car, we were ready. Soon we were joined by press, analysts, and AT&T partners and executives who all came out to see an important part of the car’s story — the use of AT&T’s WATSON speech engine. The Porsche is a great way to illustrate how helpful WATSON can be in an environment like the car.

Derek (seated in the car) with Mazin Gilbert of AT&T and Jordan Crook of TechCrunch.

The event was a big success and featured a presentation from Krish Prabhu, president and CEO of AT&T Labs Research; it also included demonstrations from AT&T Labs and AT&T Foundry. The demos included a smart door that recognizes you before you reach for your keys, and a smartphone application that performs language translations in real time.

The car will be on the road in coming weeks, including a stop at the CTIA Wireless show in New Orleans, from May 8 to 10. If you're there, be sure to check us out in the Solutions Showcase.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Autonomous cars? Surely, you're joking

No, I'm not. And stop calling me Shirley.

Five years ago, I would have called someone nuts if they said cars would soon be driving themselves. But next week, I'm going to say just that. On Monday I'm headed to Detroit for the 2012 SAE World Congress, and the rise of driver-less cars is one of the points I'm going to make as part of a panel on the future of telematics.

Saying that cars could or should drive themselves might get some people up in arms.  Am I advocating taking away the driver's rights? What happened to The Ultimate Driving Experience? What about Fahrvergn├╝gen?

I enjoy driving as much as anyone. And yes, generally, I want to be in control of my car. But I see the writing on the wall, and it comes from three things:

Elderly boomers
My grandfather told me once a couple years before his death that drivers today were so rude
—they were always giving him the finger. I sympathized, until I took a ride with him. I white-knuckled it the whole way as he drove 40 mph in a 70 zone, straddling two lanes of traffic and getting plenty of hand gestures all the way. He didn't drive for much longer after that, fortunately for him and everyone else on the roadway.

My dad is still a good driver, but slowly and surely, my parents are getting there. What happens when all the boomers lose their ability to drive safely? Especially in North America, where distances are so long and independence is a given?

Gen AO
Otherwise called Generation Always On, this group includes anyone who picks their car based on their phone, rather than the other way around. There's a whole generation of people whose need to connect and socialize is far stronger than their need to drive. I'd argue this narrow generational definition could be extended to almost all of us at one time or another.

How many of us (not asking for hands) have been guilty of glancing at their phone while driving? Okay, now how many of us have seen other drivers drift a little too far out of their lane (looking at their phones, presumably) and then all of a sudden snap back to their lane? Right, me too.

It's not just Google; it's also a bunch of very smart and driven (pun intended) people at lots of universities and high-tech companies. Google has motive: it can generate a lot more ad revenue if people are searching, and people can search a lot more if they're not driving. University researchers also have motive: Driver-less cars pose a very challenging problem that would be prestigious to solve. What's more, Google's proven it can be done—on real roads—with their driverless car. Enough that they convinced Nevada to pass a law allowing autonomous cars, with other states soon to follow.

Add those three things together, and what do you get? Yep—driverless cars, sooner than you might think. If I get to the point where I'm endangering others, I'll willingly let my car drive, rather than give up mobility. And wouldn't we all be a little safer if cars came with a cruise-control-like automatic pilot? Yes, I'm sure we would. This is the one thing that could permanently solve any form of distracted driving: a human not driving. I was never was much for Knight Rider, but KITT? Bring it on.

Techcrunch interview: Talking with (and about) AT&T's WATSON personal assistant

Yesterday, I shared an Engadget video highlighting how the QNX concept car takes advantage of WATSON, AT&T's cloud-based natural-language speech engine. Here's another video, from Jordan Crook of TechCrunch, in which AT&T's Mazin Gilbert describes what WATSON does and QNX's Derek Kuhn demonstrates how WATSON works.

The entire video is interesting, but jump to the 3:30 mark if you want to see the car. The video provides a very nice view of the QNX-equipped dash, btw.

The Engadget video and the TechCrunch video were both shot yesterday at AT&T's "Living the Networked Life" event in New York.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Find me a Starbucks! QNX concept car showcases power of WATSON speech engine

Yes, you can talk to the QNX concept car and tell it what to do.

Recently, our friends at AT&T invited us to bring the concept car to their "Living the Networked Life" event in New York. We said yes, of course! After all, what could be cooler than riding the streets of Gotham City in a digitally pimped-out Porsche 911?

Kidding aside, the event provided an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how the car takes advantage of WATSON, AT&T's natural-language speech engine. To get an idea of what WATSON can do, check out this video from Terrence O'Brien of Engadget:

For the full Engadget article, click here. And stay tuned for more updates from the Living the Networked Life event.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

When cars and planes converge

True story: I once met a man who had hand-crafted a wooden airplane propeller, mounted it to the back of a motorcycle, and used it to, well, propel himself along the backroads of rural Massachusetts. I met him only once, 30 years ago, so I'm hazy on the details — such as when he built his contraption. But if I remember correctly, it was well before World War II.

The point is, people have been combining technologies for planes and motor vehicles for more than a century. Even the Wright brothers used propeller drive chains built by an automotive supplier. The latest and most salient example of this convergence is the Terrafugia, the world's first street-legal plane. (Or is it a car that flies? Whatever.)

This convergence comes in many shapes and sizes. For instance, companies building in-flight infotainment systems have shown interest in the QNX CAR application platform. As it turns out, they are attempting to address many of the same requirements (device connectivity, fast boot times, etc.) as automakers.

Riding the Fiat
Botafogo Special
Time to rewind... back to 1917. That was the year an enterprising mechanic in Argentina built the Botafogo Special, a race car based on a Fiat aircraft engine and a variety of other Fiat parts. (A Mercedes gear box was later thrown in for good measure. So were brakes.)

About the power plant: The Botafogo's aero engine is a massive overhead-cam six with a total displacement of — wait for it — 21.7 liters. In other words, each cylinder is roughly the equivalent of a 350 Chevy. The engine puts out so much torque that the car can hit 60 mph at just 800 rpm. It's a brute.

Thank goodness for Jay Leno. He had this century-old beast restored to its original piston-thumping glory. What I love most is the pre-flight ritual. Before you jump into the driver's seat, you need to oil the valves, "retard" the ignition, prime the fuel pump, and, yes, tickle the carburetor. Check it out:

What about you? Do you have any examples of cars converging with planes, trains, or anything else?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Making of the QNX concept car... honest

We created this video as a backdrop for CES 2012 where we unveiled the latest QNX concept car (a Porsche 911). Good thing, too, as people clearly stated that they would not have believed we did this cool retrofit ourselves without proof.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

QNX joins Car Connectivity Consortium

This just in: QNX Software Systems has announced its membership in the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), the organization dedicated to developing the MirrorLink standard for car-smartphone connectivity.

MirrorLink offers a way to help car occupants access their smartphone applications. For instance, it could allow occupants to access their phone apps through the infotainment touchscreen, steering-wheel buttons, or other in-car controls.

Source: CCC
As a core member of the CCC, QNX Software Systems will have access to MirrorLink specifications under development and to various MirrorLink work groups. It will also be able to support future MirrorLink options in QNX-based systems, and help drive development of the standard.

“QNX Software Systems is a key player in the evolution of car infotainment technology and we are pleased to welcome them into the organization,” commented Mika Rytkonen, the CCC's chairman and president.

The announcement fits into QNX's strategy of enabling automotive developers to leverage widely supported industry standards.

“We believe in giving automotive customers choice and the flexibility to use the technologies best-suited to their requirements — contributing to the CCC helps us deliver on that commitment,” added Andy Gryc, automotive product marketing manager for QNX. (This is, of course, the same Andy Gryc who contributes to this blog.)

To read the press release, click here.

Doug Newcomb goes social with new car tech blog

Lots of people blog about automotive technology, but few have the chops to grab my attention. Doug Newcomb is an exception, and I invite you to check out his blog, which came online two weeks ago.

The blog may be new, but Doug himself has deep roots in automotive journalism. Among other things, he created the car technology section of; edited several publications, including Car Audio and Electronics, Car Stereo Review, and Road&Track Road Gear; and contributed to many others, including Popular Mechanics, MSN Autos, Corvette Quarterly, and SEMA News. On top of that, he wrote Car Audio for Dummies.

So far, Doug's blog posts have run the gamut — from the new Garmin Suzuki infotainment system to the virtual exhaust sounds emitted by Audi's e-tron supercar. Speaking of which, here's a video showing how those sounds were created:

To learn more about this and other developments in car tech, take a minute to visit Doug's blog or connect with him on Facebook.

PostScript: In case you're wondering, I wrote this post before I discovered that Doug had written a short article on QNX's membership in the Car Connectivity Consortium. Holy synchronicity, Batman!