Thursday, November 29, 2012

Meet the QNX concept team: Jonathan Hacker, software developer

Jonathan Hacker
Last week, we treated you to an interview with Mark Rigley, the concept development team’s director. This week, we meet up with someone who has worked on several of the team’s projects, including the Porsche 911 and Jeep Wrangler. His name is Jonathan Hacker — a wonderful aptronym, if ever there was one.

So tell us, Jon, what do you do on the concept team?
I’m a software developer. I spend much of my time listening to people so I can understand what, exactly, we want to accomplish in a concept system. I then figure out how we can use software to achieve our goal. I also spend quite a bit of my time coding.

What do you like best about being on the concept team?
I like taking a big problem, coming up with a crazy solution that no one had thought of, and turning it into something real.

Has there been a standout moment for you while working on the team?
Yes, when we were trying to get the digital speedometer to work on the Porsche 911. We drove dozens of laps around QNX headquarters while I sat in the passenger seat with my laptop, taking readings off the Porsche’s CAN bus. It was a blast — especially since we got the speedometer to work!

What is your biggest challenge right now? What keeps you up at night?

Working on concept projects is a juggling act. There are always many little pieces of software and hardware drivers being developed at the same time, and everything has to come together seamlessly. I’ve always been more of a programmer than a project manager, so making sure everything stays on track keeps me on my toes.

Who would you like to see seated in a QNX technology concept car or reference vehicle?
This couldn’t happen in real life because he’s a fictional character, but in almost every mockup produced by our designers, Gordon Freeman is phoning the car — you know, the protagonist in the Half-Life video game series. So it would be awesome to see Gordon Freeman sitting in the car. But unless it’s someone in a costume, that’s not going to happen!

What is your dream car?
The Porsche ruined most other cars for me; it really is that amazing. But If I had to pick one, it would be the Audi R8. It’s a fantastic looking car.

Are you excited about the new concept car that we plan to unveil at CES?

Of course — it’s going to rock! We are building some really awesome stuff into this car. People will be impressed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Look ma, no driver!

Some of us talk about autonomous cars, some of us dream of owning one, and some of us actually get to ride in one. Andy Gryc is one of the latter. Head over to his blog to see a video he took while being chauffeured in a self-driving vehicle developed at the University of Parma — think of it as the ultimate in hands-free systems.

Would this be an awesome way to tour Italy, or what?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What if…

Imagine if your car could help you become more connected to friends and family — and to the road ahead. Enter a new video that peers into the not-so-distant future.

It blows my mind, but some people still see connectivity in the car as the enemy. They think that, the more connected the car, the more distracting and dangerous it will be. But you know what? Responding to their concerns is easy. I simply ask them what if.

For instance, what if connectivity helped you drive with greater situational awareness? What if it helped you sidestep traffic jams and axle-busting pot holes? What if it helped you detect a stop sign hidden behind a tree? And what if it helped you become more connected to the people important to you, as well as to the road and the cars around you?

When we talk connectivity at QNX, that’s the kind of connectivity we envision. It isn’t just about Bluetooth or Wi-Fi or LTE — that’s only the plumbing. Rather, it’s about keeping you in tune and in sync with your car, your environment, your business, your friends. Your life.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

From out behind the curtain

The first of an interview series with the QNX concept team

Imagine if you went to a Rolling Stones concert and the entire band played behind a curtain. That would be totally weird, right? Well, we realized that much the same scenario was playing out with the QNX concept team. Their work, including the QNX concept car, has appeared in A-list venues like CES and Mobile World Congress, yet the team itself has remained largely behind the curtain. And that’s too bad, since the team members embody the qualities I like best about QNX. Innovation, for example.

So, in the spirit of setting things right, we decided to pull back that curtain and make some introductions. And where better to start than with Mark Rigley, the team’s director.

If I were to describe Mark in one word, I’d choose chutzpah. Or gumption. Or moxie. He is the antithesis of wait-and-see. To spot him in a room, just look for the guy who says, “Let’s do it!” when everyone else is still stuck in “maybe,” “might work,” or “I need to get back to you on that.” And when you think about it, that attitude fits the bill perfectly. Because when your job is to take something like a Porsche 911 (an example of automotive perfection, if ever there was one) and make it even cooler, you’d better have a measure of confidence in yourself — and in your team.

Indeed, if anything shines out from this interview, it is the awe and respect that Mark holds for his team members. (Okay, I’ll admit it. Something else shines brightly: Mark’s enthusiasm for the next QNX technology concept car. Did I mention the team is working on one?)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

QNX drives into CES 2013 as a CES Innovations Award Honoree

Derek Kuhn
It is hard to believe that CES 2013 is less than eight weeks away. We look forward to it every year as it has become an important event not only for our company, customers, and partners, but for the automotive community as a whole. We will be hitting the 2013 event in style — and with an awesome award!

As a kick-off to CES, we exhibited at the CES Unveiled event in New York last week and gave folks an up-close and personal look at our reference vehicle – the specifically modified Jeep Wrangler Sahara. We demonstrated how our QNX CAR 2 application platform is helping to bring a new level of personalization into the vehicle. From the reskinnable digital instrument cluster, infotainment system, and media player to HD hands-free communication and voice recognition, the reference vehicle stole the show.

Adding to the excitement for the event was the announcement that the QNX CAR 2 application platform was named an International CES Innovations 2013 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree, in the Software & Mobile Apps category. Sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) the program was created to honor outstanding design and engineering in consumer electronics products across 29 product categories.

The countdown is on for CES 2013. Until then, check out my interview with the one and only Dave Graveline at CES Unveiled:

And before you go, here are some photos from the Unveiled event:

And we’re off! The CES Unveiled show floor is open

Checking out the tablet connectivity in the QNX reference vehicle

Hanging out with the guys from

Being interviewed for the radio show "Into Tomorrow with Dave Graveline"

Monday, November 5, 2012

Top 8 questions for squeezing high-end tech into low-end infotainment

A couple of weeks ago, I hosted a webinar that addressed the question, “Is it possible to build an infotainment system that meets today's customer demands with yesterday's price tag?” The webinar explored several ways to reduce RAM and ROM requirements, eliminate hardware, and share hardware, all with the goal of cutting BOM costs.

As always, the audience asked lots of great questions, several of which I have answered here. Of course, these provide only a hint of the ground covered in the webinar, so I invite you to download the archived version to get the full details.

Built-in phone module versus brought-in smart phone: what is your take on this, and is a hybrid approach feasible?
The approach will vary from automaker to automaker. I think that embedded phones will be required for certain cars, especially if they use systems that rely on cloud-based services. This approach adds to the BOM cost, of course, but it may reduce overall cost, depending on what features can be off-loaded to the cloud.

Some brands will encourage brought-in devices as the lowest-cost alternative. The consumer will then have to deal with the setup and maintenance issues required to pair or charge the phone. I don’t see a clear-cut analysis that says one method will be better than the other — it really depends on what you want to accomplish.

Any thoughts on using MirrorLink to clone a virtual display to a remote physical LCD?
If you’re talking about a remote (as in cloud-based) device, I would say that HTML5 is a much more natural choice for a server-based application. If it’s a brought-in device, then MirrorLink or HTML5 could be appropriate.

If GPS is moved to a brought-in phone, how will a stolen vehicle be located?
It won’t be, unless the phone was left in the vehicle. This is one of the trade-offs you make when trying to reduce cost.

Of the cost-saving techniques you discussed, which are most likely to be used?
Already, some system designers are removing wake-up micros and DSPs. I’m not aware of any systems where the LCD has been removed, but this approach would probably offer the largest cost savings, making it a likely choice for entry-level systems and cost-sensitive markets.

Security and reliability are the main concerns of a head unit. Squeezing high-end technologies into low-end systems won’t relax those expectations. For instance, smart phone integration will be an add-on instead of replacing functionality of the head unit. Thoughts?
The trade-offs will need to be communicated to the customer. You can never build a head-unit augmented with a smartphone that works as reliably as the head unit operating by itself. As an OEM or Tier 1, you just don’t have enough control over the brought-in devices.

As an industry, we need to educate consumers. If they start relying on the phone in the car to provide certain features, then they will have to expect an inevitable degradation in overall system quality. It comes back to that famous adage: “cost, quality, or time — pick two”.

MirrorLink has a defined communication interface to the head unit. You also mentioned HTML5 as an option. Is there a defined standard yet for transmitting the HTML5 up to the head unit?
The interface between web server (i.e. phone) and web client (i.e. head unit) is already well established and tested. For some specialized features (for instance, allowing HTML5 code to access vehicle services) some standardization may be required. This will hopefully be a topic of discussion in November, at the automotive HTML5 workshop hosted by the W3C in Rome. Some Connected Car Consortium members have also discussed the possibility that, in the future, MirrorLink could add a transport mechanism based on HTML5.

You discussed peripheral sharing, using QNX transparent distributed processing. Does QNX TDP require secure authentication between distributed boxes?
No, it does not. It relies on standard POSIX user group permissions to provide access rights to devices.

Can you discuss any trends you see regarding Ethernet or TCP/IP in the vehicle?
Ethernet is definitely becoming more interesting in the vehicle, due to the introduction of Ethernet AVB. It makes a very natural replacement for audio-video transmission over MOST, and the additions to AVB that fulfil strict timing requirements can replace CAN or MOST for non-media vehicle messages. Ethernet also has obvious advantages when you need to access Wi-Fi networks, cloud services, and mobile devices.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Open source software in auto: a time that’s come (and gone)?

As mentioned in my previous post, Paul Hansen of the Hansen Report held an OEM panel at SAE Convergence. The panel was international in scope, with North America, Europe, and Japan equally represented through Ford, GM, Audi, Fiat, Nissan, and Toyota. Paul asked the participants to raise their hands if they would have any significant products based on the GENIVI open-source platform in production within the next five years.

The one punch
None of the panelists raised a hand. The answer caught me off guard so of course I immediately tweeted it (@truegryc). Though GM and Nissan are members of the GENIVI Alliance, they don’t have any GENIVI project with enough volume worth talking about. The other panelists aren’t planning to use GENIVI, either. (If BMW was on the panel, the total hands may not have been zero, but their singular stance would still be telling.)

The two punch
A similar question, about how OEMs could best utilize open source software, created an uncomfortably pregnant pause, with panelist members furtively looking at each other. Eventually, Ricky Hudi from Audi decided to tackle the issue directly. I’m paraphrasing his answer, but he said that open source software has not paid off as much as anticipated and that the risks of using it within automotive are still underappreciated.

Why not?
The sheer number of GENIVI members lends an impression of vitality. Despite that, we’ve seen GENIVI coming up as a competitor in automotive RFIs, RFQs, and RFPs less and less.

I have a few speculations as to why this is so. No OEM wants to spend tons of time and engineering effort to build something that helps every one of their competitors, and I don’t believe IP rights were clearly delineated from the beginning. As a committee-run organization, GENIVI seems to have responded sluggishly to new technologies; it also seems to have a conspicuously absent HMI strategy. And I think that people have figured out by now that building a production infotainment system is a hell of a lot harder than simply bolting a media player on top of your favorite OS.

Building communities
Does the lukewarm OEM response signal a rough road ahead for automotive open source software in general? Or for other up-and-coming replacements like Automotive Grade Linux? For the record, although I work for QNX Software Systems and our software isn’t open source, I definitely see value for open source in certain automotive situations. Open source provides a lot of value in broad efforts like building developer communities and fleshing out ecosystems. But open source isn’t the only way to accomplish these goals; they can also be achieved through open standards like HTML5, which is our approach at QNX. In fact, shortly after Mr. Hansen’s OEM panel, QNX’s Andrew Poliak held a Convergence session that focused on this exact point.

"Free" isn’t
Car companies often pursue open source with a single-minded goal of “getting software for free”. But within automotive, at least, using open source is not free. There are a lot of costs in producing software; licensing is just the part that impacts the Bill Of Materials. Non-recurring engineering costs, training, expertise creation, expertise retention, support, and licensing compliance add up: these items can easily overwhelm runtime license costs. Unfortunately, some companies have learned this lesson the hard way.