Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The ultimate show-me car

It's one thing to say you can do something. It's another thing to prove it. Which helps explain why we create technology concept cars.

You see, we like to tell people that flexibility and customization form the very DNA of the QNX CAR Platform for Infotainment. Which they do. But in the automotive world, people don't just say "tell me"; they say "show me". And so, we used the platform to transform a Bentley Continental GT into a unique concept car, equipped with features never before seen in a vehicle.

Now here's the thing. This is the same QNX CAR Platform found in the QNX reference vehicle, which I discussed last week. But when you compare the infotainment systems in the two vehicles, the differences are dramatic: different features, different branding, different look-and-feel.

The explanation is simple: The reference vehicle shows what the QNX CAR Platform can do out of the box, while the Bentley demonstrates what the platform lets you do once you add your imagination to mix. One platform, many possibilities.

Enough talk; time to look at the car. And let's start with the exterior, because wow:

The awesome (and full HD) center stack
And now let's move to the interior, where the first thing you see is a gorgeous center stack. This immense touchscreen features a gracefully curved surface, full HD graphics, and TI’s optical touch input technology, which allows a physical control knob to be mounted directly on the screen — a feature that’s cool and useful. The center stack supports a variety of applications, including a 3D navigation system from Elektrobit that makes full use of the display:

At 17 inches, the display is big enough to display other functions, such as the car’s media player or virtual mechanic, and still have plenty of room for navigation:

The awesome (and very configurable) digital instrument cluster
The instrument cluster is implemented entirely in software, though you would hardly know it — the virtual gauges are impressively realistic. More impressive still is the cluster’s ability to morph itself on the fly. Put the car in Drive, and the cluster will display a tach, gas gauge, temperature gauge, and turn-by-turn directions — the cluster pulls these directions from the center stack’s navigation system. Put the car in Reverse, and the cluster will display a video feed from the car’s backup camera. You can also have the cluster display the current weather and current sound track:

The awesome (and just plain fun) web app
The web app works with any web browser and allows the driver to view data that the car publishes to the cloud, such as fluid levels, tire pressure, brake wear, and the current track being played by the infotainment system. It even allows the driver to remotely start or stop the engine, open or close windows, and so on:

The awesome (and nicely integrated) smartphone support
The Bentley also showcases how the QNX CAR Platform enables advanced integration with popular smartphones. For instance, the car can communicate with a smartphone to stream music, or to provide notifications of incoming email, news feeds, and other real-time information — all displayed in a manner appropriate to the automotive context. Here's an example:

The awesome everything else
I’ve only scratched the surface of what the car can do. For instance, it also provides:

  • Advanced voice rec — Just say “Hello Bentley,” and the car’s voice recognition system immediately comes to life and begins to interact with you — in a British accent, of course.
  • Advanced multimedia system — Includes support for Internet radio.
  • Video conferencing with realistic telepresence — Separate cameras for the driver and passenger provide independent video streams, while fullband voice technology from QNX offers expanded bandwidth for greater telepresence.
  • LTE connectivity — The car features an LTE radio modem, as well as a Wi-Fi hotspot for devices you bring into the car.

Moving pictures
Okay, time for some video. Here's a fun look at the making of the car:

And here's a run-through of the car's many capabilities, filmed by our friends at TI during 2013 CES:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is this the most jazzed-up Jeep ever to hit CES?

The fourth installment in the CES Cars of Fame series. Our inductee for this week: a Jeep that gets personal.

Paul Leroux
It might not be as hip as the Prius or as fast as the Porsche. But it's fun, practical, and flexible. Better yet, you can drive it just about anywhere. Which makes it the perfect vehicle to demonstrate the latest features of the QNX CAR Platform for Infotainment.

It's called the QNX reference vehicle, and it's been to CES in Las Vegas, as well as to Detroit, New York City, and lots of places in between. It's our go-to vehicle for whenever we want to hit the road and showcase our latest infotainment technology. It even made a guest appearance at IBM's recent Information On Demand 2013 Big Data conference, where it demonstrated the power of connecting cars to the cloud.

The reference vehicle, which is based on a Jeep Wrangler, serves a different purpose than our technology concept cars. Those vehicles take the QNX CAR Platform as a starting point to demonstrate how the platform can help automakers hit new levels of innovation. The reference vehicle plays a more modest, but equally important, role: to show what our the platform can do out of the box.

For instance, we updated the Jeep recently to show how version 2.1 of the QNX CAR Platform will allow developers to blend a variety of application and HMI technologies on the same display. In this case, the Jeep's head unit is running a mix of native, HTML5, and Android apps on an HMI built with the Qt application framework:

Getting personal
We also use the Jeep to demonstrate the platform's support for customization and personalization. For instance, here is the first demonstration instrument cluster we created specifically for the Jeep:

And here's a more recent version:

These clusters may look very different, but they share the same underlying features, such as the ability to display turn-by-turn directions, weather updates, and other information provided by the head unit.

Keeping with the theme of personalization, the Jeep also demonstrates how the QNX CAR Platform allows developers to create re-skinnable HMIs. Here, for example, is a radio app in one skin:

And here's the same app in a different skin:

This re-skinnability isn't just cool; it also demonstrates how the QNX CAR Platform can help automotive developers create a single underlying code base and re-use it across multiple vehicle lines. Good, that.

Getting complementary
The Jeep is also the perfect vehicle to showcase the ecosystem of complementary apps and services integrated with the QNX CAR Platform, such as the (very cool) street director navigation system from Elektrobit:

To return to the question, is this really the most jazzed-up Jeep to hit CES? Well, it will be making a return trip to CES in just a few weeks, with a whole new software build. So if you're in town, drop by and let us know what you think.

Klocwork joins QNX automotive safety ecosystem

Paul Leroux
This just in: Klocwork, a leader in development tools for creating secure software, has become an ecosystem partner for the QNX Automotive Safety Program for ISO 26262.

Klocwork joins a roster of companies, including Elektrobit, Freescale, NVIDIA, and TI, who already support the program, which is designed to help automotive companies build digital instrument clusters, ADAS systems, and other products with functional safety requirements.

Klocwork offers Insight, a source code analysis tool recently certified to the ISO 26262 and IEC 61508 functional safety standards. Insight plugs directly into the QNX Momentics Tool Suite, allowing developers to detect security and safety vulnerabilities on the fly, and to ensure their code meets functional safety standards.

"Klocwork Insight provides real-time feedback during code development, immediately alerting developers to code that may conflict with the MISRA C/C++ coding standards required by ISO 26262," said Grant Courville, director of product management at QNX. "Better yet, Insight plugs into our IDE to provide a seamless and productive development experience."

The QNX Automotive Safety Program for ISO 26262 was created to help automotive companies building functional safety products to leverage QNX Software Systems’ proven competency in certifications, safety-critical systems, and automotive software design. Key elements of the program include an example safety case based on the QNX Neutrino RTOS Safe Kernel, guidelines on safety-critical design for real-time OS-based systems, a suite of professional services, and an ecosystem of supporting vendors who offer complementary hardware, tool chains, graphics technologies, and consulting services for safety critical systems.

Read the press release.

Monday, December 9, 2013

So many cores — what to do with them all?

Multi-core processors are clearly becoming the mainstream for automotive infotainment systems. TI’s OMAP processors and their automotive derivatives use dual A15 cores, Freescale's i.MX 6 boasts up to four A9 cores, and other companies also have multi-core architectures in production or on near-term roadmaps. Quad-core A15 processors are just around the corner. As a percentage of overall die area, the CPU core is relatively small, so SoC producers can lay down multiple cores with little impact on cost. GPUs, on the other hand, represent a large percentage of the die area and, as such, are typically instantiated only once per SoC.

Realistically, infotainment systems should no longer be CPU bound. In fact, when looking at leading-edge SoCs available today, many are asking what to do with all that extra CPU just sitting there, waiting to do something. At first blush, the more obvious areas to merge are infotainment and ADAS, or infotainment and digital instrument clusters. This is, at the highest level, pretty much a no-brainer so long as the safety requirements mandated for clusters and ADAS can be achieved.

Thing is, automotive safety standards like ISO 26262 require system-level certifications. As such, the entire system needs to be certified. Already a daunting task for a standalone ADAS system or digital instrument cluster, the problem can become unmanageable when you include the full infotainment stack.

Think about your car. Your cluster does a handful of operations whereas your infotainment system runs a full navigation system, voice recognition, multimedia, device connectivity, and, in the connected case, cloud services. People don't get frustrated trying to figure out how your cluster works (I hope), and they don't give up trying to figure out how fast the car is moving. The same cannot be said for many infotainment systems shipping today. Ask your mother to pair her cell phone to her car. I dare you! The complexity involved in attempting to certify a system that combines infotainment and cluster functions is orders of magnitude higher than certifying a cluster alone.

All is not lost, however. Virtualization offers an elegant way to isolate multiple systems running on a single multi-core SoC. By using virtualization you could seek certification on the cluster without burdening yourself with the infotainment problem and collapse two formerly discrete systems onto one SoC. You would save money and probably get a promotion to boot. Just one thing: there is still only one GPU on the die and both the infotainment system and the cluster rely heavily on that single GPU.

Enter Red Bend Software, a long-time QNX CAR Platform partner for FOTA. They have taken the challenge of virtualizing the GPU head-on and successfully demonstrated the QNX CAR Platform and a Crank Software-based digital instrument cluster running on dual displays driven by a single OMAP 5 at Telematics Munich. I saw it and was impressed with how snappy performance was on the infotainment side and how smooth the needles were (60+ fps) on the cluster.

Using virtualization to drive dual displays from a single TI OMAP 5 processor.

According to Red Bend, they have designed a GPU-sharing architecture that enables multiple guest operating systems to access hardware accelerators, including the GPU, providing isolation between the operating systems while having a minimal impact on overall performance (which probably isn't a huge deal considering how many CPU cores are going to be shipping on a single SoC in the near term). It sounds impressive, but seeing is believing.

Red Bend will next show this demo in the TI Suite at CES (N115 in the North Hall). If system consolidation is something that keeps you up at night, you should really stop by to see what they have done.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Porsche you could talk to

Paul Leroux
I have a confession to make. The day before QNX Software Systems unveiled this technology concept at car at 2012 CES, I leaked the news on the On Q blog. Mind you, the leak was unintentional. I had been editing a post that described the car and, instead of hitting Save, I hit Publish by mistake. Dumb, I know.

I immediately took down the post and informed my colleagues of the error. Fortunately, my RSS feed didn't give me away, and the launch, which had been strictly under wraps, went ahead as planned. But boy, did I feel stupid.

Now that I've got that off my chest, let's see what the hubbub was about. The car, based on a Porsche 911 Carrera, came equipped with an array of features built by the QNX concept team, including one-touch smartphone pairing, high-definition hands-free calls, rear-seat entertainment, and a digital instrument cluster.

So, you ready for a tour?

The car
Let's start with the exterior. Because man, what an exterior:

The instrument cluster
Once you got behind the wheel, the first thing you saw was the instrument cluster. But
this was no ordinary cluster. It could dynamically reconfigure itself — in response to voice commands, no less. It could even communicate with the navigation system to display turn-by-turn directions. And it was designed to honor the look-and-feel of the stock 911 cluster:

The head unit
To your right, you could see the head unit. Here is the unit's main screen, from which you could access all of the system's key functions:

And here's another screen, showing the system's media player:

The front-seat control of backseat infotainment
The Porsche also showcased how a head unit could offer front-seat control of backseat entertainment — perfect for when you need to control what your kids are watching or listening to:

The voice recognition
The Porsche was outfitted with cloud-based voice recognition, which let you enter navigation destinations naturally, without having to use artificial grammars. Check out this Engadget clip, taken at an AT&T event in New York City:

The car also included features that neither words nor pictures can capture adequately. But let me try, anyway:

One-touch Bluetooth pairing — Allowed you to pair a phone to the car simply by touching the phone to an NFC reader embedded in the center console; no complicated menus to wade through.

Text-to-speech integration — Could read aloud incoming emails, text messages, and BBM messages.

High-definition voice technology — Used 48KHz full stereo bandwidth for clear, high-fidelity hands-free calls.

The car also ran a variety of apps, including TCS hybrid navigation, Vlingo voice-to-text, Poynt virtual assistant, Weather Network, and streaming Internet radio from Pandora, Nobex, Slacker, and TuneIn.

The point
The point of this car wasn't simply to be cool, but to demonstrate what's possible in next-gen infotainment systems. More specifically, it was designed to showcase the capabilities of the QNX CAR Platform for Infotainment. In fact, it did such a good job on that count that the platform took home the 2012 CES Best of Show award, in the car tech category:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cyber security and connected cars

What does cyber security mean, what does it affect, why is it becoming critical, and what can you do about it? Those were some of the questions I addressed in a recent webcast on automotive cyber security, hosted by SAE International. I represented the software side of things and was accompanied by my hardware colleagues Richard Soja and Jeffrey Kelley, who work at Freescale and Infineon respectively.

I’ve hosted webinars on a variety of automotive and embedded software topics, but none with such an impressive range of participants. We had people from government organizations of several countries, not to mention automakers, tier 1 and tier 2 auto suppliers, telematics companies, mobile developers, concerned individuals, and even utility companies. And the range of questions and comments was equally diverse — from specific insights about elliptical encryption to sweeping “how does this affect society” musings.

My key takeaway: QNX isn’t alone in its concern for automotive cyber security. We have years of experience in building secure trusted systems and we’re excited to help customers build tomorrow’s secure cars. Nice thing is, the rest of the world is starting to get on board as well.

If you're interested, you can download the archived version of the webinar.