Monday, September 23, 2013

Distracted driving — the stats are alarming

I was driving to work the other day when I heard something on the radio that almost made me drop my smartphone. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) announced that, for the first time, deaths attributable to driver distraction outnumber those caused by impaired driving. So far this year, on roads patrolled by the OPP, distraction has led to 47 deaths, while impaired driving has led to 32.

This stat drives home the need for dramatically better head-unit integration of services that drivers would otherwise use their phones to access. This isn't anything new to QNX. We've been working with our partners to provide all the necessary elements to enable this integration through technologies such as HTML5, Qt, iPod out, MirrorLink, and Bluetooth. All these technologies can help create systems that minimize driver distraction but they represent only part of the solution. Pushing buttons on your head unit, combined with smart HMI design, does help, but it's not a panacea.

To truly help drivers keep their eyes on the road we have to minimize the time they spend looking at the infotainment display. Multi-modal HMIs built from the ground up with the assumption that high-quality speech recognition and text-to-speech are available will drastically change the way drivers interact with their infotainment systems. For instance, such HMIs could read your texts and emails aloud to you; they could even let you dictate responses at the appropriate time. But really, the possibilities are endless. And on the topic of talking to your car, we're constantly working with our partners to enrich the speech capabilities of the QNX CAR Platform. But more on that in an upcoming post.

By the way, I wasn't really using my smartphone while I was driving. That's illegal here. Not to mention incredibly dumb.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Seminar: managing the growing amount of software in cars

It’s no secret that the amount of software in automobiles is growing rapidly — as is the challenge of maintaining it reliably and efficiently. At QNX Software Systems we focus on areas like infotainment, telematics, clusters, and ADAS, but our long-term FOTA partner, Red Bend Software, takes a more holistic view, working with companies like Vector Informatik to extend FOTA all the way down to ECUs.

To help automakers and tier one suppliers manage their software deployments more efficiently, Red Bend is hosting a seminar Friday September 27 at the Westin Southfield Detroit. Speakers will include representatives from Strategy Analytics, Texas Instruments, and Vector, not to mention our own Andy Gryc. You can register on the Red Bend website.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

New Mercedes-Benz Concept S-Class Coupé sports QNX-powered infotainment system

Paul Leroux
All-digital instrument cluster and head unit based on QNX CAR Platform

Did you ever lay your eyes on something and say, “Now, that is what I want for Christmas”? Well, I just said it — in response to a set of wheels. But holy turbochargers, what wheels! Not to mention everything else.

If you’re wondering what fueled this sudden rush of automotive desire, here’s a glimpse:

And here’s a bird’s-eye view:

And here’s a peak at the oh-so-gorgeous interior:

All images copyright Daimler AG

Mercedes-Benz took the wraps off this car, the new Concept S-Class Coupé, earlier this week. And just a few minutes ago, QNX and Mercedes revealed that the car’s infotainment system is based on the QNX CAR Platform.

This isn’t the first time QNX and Mercedes-Benz have worked together. Besides providing the OS for various Mercedes infotainment systems, the QNX automotive team has worked with Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America since the early 2000s, providing the group with advanced technologies for the specification and prototyping of next-generation vehicle electronics. The infotainment system in the Concept S-Class Coupé is the latest — and arguably coolest — product of this long collaboration.

The Concept S-Class Coupé also packs a serious power plant: a 449 hp Biturbo V8 with peak torque of 516 lb-ft. And it offers driver-assistance technologies that are, quite literally, forward looking. Here is a sampling of what's inside:

  • Two 12.3-inch displays
  • Touchscreen showing four world clocks
  • Stereo camera offering 3D view of the area in front of the car
  • "6DVision" to detect the position and movement of objects in front of the car
  • Variety of assistance systems to monitor surrounding traffic

I’m only touching the surface here. For more details on the car, visit the Mercedes-Benz website. And before you go, check out the press release that QNX issued this morning.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Why doesn’t my navigation system understand me?

A story where big is good, but small is even better.

Yoshiki Chubachi
Yoshiki Chubachi
My wife and I are about to go shopping in a nearby town. So I get into my car, turn the key, and set the destination from POIs on the navigation system. The route calculation starts and gives me today’s route. But somehow, I feel a sense of doubt every time this route comes up on the system...

Route calculation in navigation uses Dijkstra's algorithm, invented by Edsger Dijkstra in 1956 to determine the shortest path in a graph. To save calculation time, navigation systems use two directional searches: one as the starting point and the other as the destination point. The data scheme that navigation systems use to represent maps consists of nodes, links, and attributes. Typically, a node represents a street intersection; a link represents the stretch of road, or connection, between two nodes; and attributes consist of properties such as street name, street addresses, and speed limit (see diagram).

Features of a map database. From Wikipedia.
As you may guess, it can take a long time to calculate the shortest path from all of the routes available. The problem is, automakers typically impose stringent requirements on timing. For example, I know of an automaker that expected the route from Hokkaido (in northern Japan) to Kyushu (in southern Japan) to be calculated in just a few seconds.

To address this issue, a system can use a variety of approaches. For instance, it can store map data hierarchically, where the highest class consists of major highways. To choose a route between two points, the system follows the hierarchical order, from high to low. Another approach is to use precalculated data, prepared by the navigation supplier. These examples offer only a glimpse of the complexity and magnitude of the problems faced by navigation system vendors.

An encouraging trend
Big data is the hot topic in the navigation world. One source of this data is mobile phones, which provide floating car data (current speed, current location, travel direction, etc.) that can be used by digital instrument clusters and other telematics components. A system that could benefit from such data is VICS (Vehicle Information and Communication System), a traffic-information standard used in Japan and supported by Japanese navigation systems. Currently, VICS broadcasts information updates only every 5 minutes because of the bandwidth limitations of the FM sub-band that it uses. As a result, a navigation system will sometimes indicate that no traffic jam exists, even though digital traffic signs indicate that a jam does indeed exist and that service is limited to the main road. This delay, and the inconvenience it causes, could be addressed with floating car data.

An example of a VICS-enabled system in which traffic congestion, alternate routes, and other information is overlaid on the navigation map. Source: VICS

During the great earthquake disaster in East Japan, Google and automotive OEMs (Honda, Nissan, Toyota) collaborated by using floating car data to provide road availability — a clear demonstration of how can big data can enhance car navigation. Leveraging big data to improve route calculation is an encouraging trend.

Small data: making it personal
Still, a lot can be accomplished with small data; specifically, personalization. I may prefer one route on the weekend, but another route on a rainy day, and yet another route on my wife's birthday. To some extent, a self-learning system could realize this personalization by gauging how frequently I've used a route in the past. But I don’t think that's enough. As of now, I feel that my navigation system doesn't understand me as well as Amazon, which at least seems to know which book I’d like to read! Navigation systems need to learn more about who I am, how well I can drive, and what I like.

Personalization resides on the far side of big data but offers more convenience to the driver. The more a navigation system can learn more about a driver (as in “Oh, this guy has limited driving skills and doesn’t like narrow roads”), the better. It is best to store this data on a server; that way, the driver could benefit even if he or she switches to a different car or navigation system. This can be done using the latest web technologies and machine learning. Currently, navigation systems employ a rule-based algorithm, but it would be interesting to investigate probability-based approaches, such as Bayesian networks.

I’m looking forward to the day when my navigation system can provide a route that suits my personal tastes, skills, and habits. Navigation suppliers may be experiencing threats from the mobile world, including Google and Apple, but I think that returning to the original point of navigation — customer satisfaction — can be achieved by experienced navigation developers.

Yoshiki Chubachi is the automotive business development manager for QNX Software Systems in Japan

Monday, September 9, 2013

QNX and the W3C: setting a new standard

For almost two years, you’ve heard us talk about HTML5 in the car, particularly as it applies to the QNX CAR Platform for Infotainment. And now, we're taking the next step: working with the entire automotive community to develop a standard set of JavaScript APIs for accessing vehicle sensor information.

Andy Gryc (that’s me of course) and Adam Abramski (from Intel and representing GENIVI) are co-chairs in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Automotive and Web Platform Business Group. Yes, our group name is a mouthful. But the translation is that Adam and I are working with W3C group members to create a standard that everyone can agree on.

Between GENIVI, Tizen, Webinos, and QNX, four different APIs are in use today. So what’s the process? All of these APIs have been submitted to the W3C group members as contributions. Those contributions form the groundwork, creating a baseline for where we need to go. Collectively as a group, we need to merge these four APIs — figure out the commonalities and harmonize the differences to create a new standard that takes the best features of all the proposals.

This effort takes some time, but the group intends to complete a first draft by December this year. Either Tina Jeffrey (my colleague, who’s doing some of the heavy lifting) or myself will be posting our progress here, so keep an eye out for our updates!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

QNX automotive summit in Shanghai: the recap

Guest post from Alan Zhang, technical solutions manager, QNX Software Systems

Alan Zhang
On August 27 the QNX Automotive Summit returned to China, bringing together global automotive leaders in beautiful downtown Shanghai. Despite the morning traffic, by 9:30 a.m. more than 130 delegates from the automotive industry had filled up the Grand Ball Room at Ritz-Carlton, Pudong. The number of delegates exceeded our expectations — our event manager Alison had to ask the hotel for extra chairs!

The theme of the summit was “explore new opportunities in automotive and mobile convergence”. The convergence of the car and the smartphone is becoming a universal topic, but China is a particularly interesting place to discuss this subject: not only is the prevalence of the car relatively new, but the country is already the world’s largest automotive market. Competition is fierce — the leaders gathered at the summit shared their expert insights for winning new and unique automotive opportunities in China.

Mission-critical pedigree: Derek Kuhn
delivers his opening remarks.
The word from Audi, AutoNavi, Foryou, Harman
Derek Kuhn, QNX vice president of sales and marketing, got things rolling with a talk on how our mission-critical pedigree and mobile experience help automotive companies address the challenges of the connected car. Following Derek were Xiaodan Tang of Audi China and Tong Zao of Harman International who shared their views on automotive trends from the OEM and tier one perspectives.

The day before the summit, we hosted a press conference announcing our collaborations with the Chinese companies AutoNavi and Foryou. The press event attracted 37 journalists, all curious to hear about our strategy for China and who in China we are working with (see our recent posts on AutoNavi and Foryou). On the summit day we were honored to have guest speakers from these companies — Yongqi Yang, executive VP of AutoNavi, and Zou Hong, director of product management, Foryou.

Autonomous drive
In China, collaboration with the government and academia is a key topic in the automotive industry. Jin Xu, our global education program manager, and Professor T. John Koo from Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technologies, Chinese Academy of Sciences (SIAT CAS), shared a session titled “Shaping Future Cars in China: Research and Education.” Professor Koo leads research using QNX software at SIAT CAS and has been involved in autonomous drive research since 2003, long before the word ADAS existed. Jin introduced QNX Software Systems’ academic initiatives in China and how we are enabling future automotive engineers.

Global reach, local services
Deploying services and features that are regionally relevant is a key challenge for global automotive companies. Weiyu Liang, our director of engineering services for APAC, spoke on QNX engineering services and how we support local customers. Localization is hugely important for anybody targeting the China market. Our last guest speaker, Suo fei Li of Baidu, provider of the biggest Chinese language search engine, spoke on how Baidu can work with automotive companies as a trusted partner rather than as just a supplier. A Baidu application running on the QNX CAR Platform was also shown at the event along with the latest features included in version 2.1.

Our hardware partners Altera, Elektrobit, Freescale, NVIDIA, Renesas, TI, Xilinx were also on hand, showcasing their latest automotive demos.

A unique combination
Andrew Poliak, our automotive business development director, delivered the closing presentation. Tying together various discussions that happened throughout the day, Andrew’s speech focused on QNX advantages such as platform flexibility, HMI options, advanced acoustic technology, and our unique ability to combine all of the above with functional safety. This all tied into our event theme — enabling automotive customers and giving them competitive edge to seize the new and unique opportunities in China.

Summit at a glance — a pictorial overview from QNX marketing manager Noko Kataoko

So many people were in the room, the camera couldn't fit them all in. Next year, we'll have to invest in a wider lens: ;-)

Taking QNX for a drive. The exhibit hall featured several QNX automotive partners, including Altera, Elektrobit, Freescale, NVIDIA, Renesas, TI, and Xilinx:

The summit included talks from Audi, AutoNavi, Foryou, Harman, QNX, and the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technologies. Speakers included our own Andrew Poliak, who looks like he's discussing the virtues of the QNX logo, but is in fact pointing to his presentation on stage right:

Did I mention there was a draw for a shiny new Nikon camera? Did I mention I didn't win? Did I mention it's because, as a QNX employee, I wasn't allowed to participate? Now don't get me wrong, I'm not bitter, or anything...

Mmm... don't they look good? Besides getting a taste of what's in store for the connected car, attendees got to enjoy some other tastes as well:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

TI and QNX: driving infotainment forward

Guest post by Robert Tolbert of Texas Instruments Incorporated

Robert Tolbert
My role as a business development and product marketing manager in Texas Instruments’ (TI) automotive infotainment processor business allows me the opportunity to travel the globe, discussing technology with the brightest minds in automotive infotainment.

I've learned that no matter where the discussion begins — replacing the vehicle boot microcontroller in Detroit, choosing between MOST-MLB and Ethernet AVB in Japan, blending FM and DAB radio in Germany, or fire-walling the vehicle CAN bus in Korea — the conversation always loops back to software, or even more pointedly, hardware and software systems. Inevitably, at this point, the customer begins to tense up and I in turn get a chance to relax and explain the value of the well-established relationship between QNX Software Systems and TI.

OEMs and tier one suppliers place an extremely high value on trust, dependability, and commitment to excellence when choosing their partners. Vehicle owners are no different. It is easy for QNX and TI to show OEMs that our longstanding relationship embodies all these attributes.

A matter of trust
Jacinto 6 is designed for advanced 
HMI and navigation, digital and 
analog radio, and multimedia
QNX Software Systems and TI have been working together for more than 10 years, and the longevity of the relationship is based on the premise that industry-leading automotive infotainment processors (i.e. TI’s DRA74x “Jacinto 6”) and industry leading software platforms (i.e. QNX CAR Platform) are somewhat diminished if they aren’t harmonized to take full advantage of all the hardware has to offer.

Once a customer decides to work with QNX Software Systems and TI, they can trust that both companies have spent numerous years and countless hours working together to extract the maximum performance out of the SoC platform. It is easy to see that QNX is there with TI when a new SoC first arrives, working alongside TI’s engineers to get the latest QNX software running on Jacinto within days. OEMs and tier ones can trust that engineers from both companies have collaborated with one another to deliver QNX board support packages on Jacinto with optimized drivers and integrated middleware. This collaboration saves tier one suppliers precious time when doing their own board bring-up or board support package.

Integrated SDR
An example is in order. To accelerate time to market and reduce tier one integration efforts, TI and QNX Software Systems have integrated software defined radio running on the Jacinto C66x DSP into the QNX CAR Platform. This pre-integration step minimizes the amount of effort that tier ones expend when integrating HD and DAB radio functions into their head unit designs.

TI and QNX can build a longstanding relationship with customers by demonstrating the number of products tailored for automotive that both companies have released over the years. Developing automotive products is a strand in the DNA of both companies, not this year’s latest venture.

With trust comes the expectation of dependability, and I expect nothing less when making my own automobile purchasing decisions. I want to know that I can depend on the dealer and the manufacturer when I encounter any issue with my vehicle. I see and hear that same belief when speaking with our customers as they go through their vendor selection process. Customers want to know can they depend on TI and QNX Software Systems to help them solve critical problems during their design cycle. They want to hear how the two companies triage issues together.

Reducing boot time
Recently, TI and QNX Software Systems were tasked by a mutual customer using a DRA62x “Jacinto 5 Eco” platform to reduce the HMI boot time and to display the vehicle splash screen within a very short time frame. Our teams attacked this requirement head on and held various architecture reviews, ultimately restructuring the Jacinto 5 Eco / QNX boot process to have critical elements running in parallel, while taking advantage of the Cortex M3 cores and the QNX microkernel architecture. After careful optimization we achieved a boot time and a splash screen appearance in line with the customer requirements. The customer was extremely pleased with our collaborative efforts.

Timely resolution
TI and QNX Software Systems have an established process for joint debug sessions with customers to aid in timely resolution of issues. Our customer support engineers pull from their vast experience in solving automotive issues, along with the knowledge gained from joint architecture and design reviews. By seeing that TI and QNX know how to solve automotive issues and have shown the propensity to work together over the years, customers quickly realize that they can depend on us.

QNX technology concept car: an
example of what's possible when
you integrate QNX and TI
Finally there is value placed on the commitment to excellence. When someone has a commitment to excellence it is not only visible in their past and present but you can see it in their future as well. Most recently, QNX Software Systems and TI collaborated for a glimpse into the not-so-distant future when QNX unveiled the QNX technology concept car powered by OMAP™ processors and DLP™ technologies.

It doesn’t take OEMs and tier ones long to realize that the attributes vehicle owners demand of them are present in the collaboration between QNX Software Systems and TI. To view more blogs from my team and I, please be sure to check out Behind The Wheel.

I can’t wait to get back on the road again to tell our joint customers our story.

More about Robert
In his current role as product management director for OMAP™ applications processors at TI, Robert is responsible for identifying target markets, defining product roadmaps, and implementing strategic marketing efforts for TI’s industry-proven OMAP applications processors. He also develops promotion and branding activities, and drives business models for OMAP products.

Prior to this role, Robert was the worldwide director for OMAP business development. Through his hard work, the OMAP product line had one of the highest revenue-generating standard products in TI’s portfolio.

Previously, Robert served as an account product marketing and business development engineer for TI’s wireless products. In this role, he managed relationships with key TI customers, worked with the sales team to identify potential business opportunities for TI’s wireless products, negotiated pricing and contracts with customers, and drove execution of product schedules and ramp-to-production activities from a business perspective on custom engagements. He also coordinated communication strategies to the customers and aided in worldwide strategic alignment across multiple TI teams.

In 2008 Robert was honored nationally as the 2008 Black Engineer of the Year for Technical Sales and Marketing by U.S. Black Engineer magazine. He graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.