Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The QNX sound machine at CES

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending the Consumer Electronics Show, you’ll know that it’s a crowded place full of lights and noise. In the automotive North Hall, much of the cacophony comes from the legions of car customizers blasting bass from sedan-sized speakers. This year, QNX has brought a new kind of technology concept car to CES, based on a Kia Soul, that offers some subtler forms of sound artistry. (Sorry, hamster fans—I don’t think we’ll have your favorite mascot in the QNX booth.)

A sound ride: the new QNX technology concept car for acoustics

Let’s start with noise. Everyone likes a booming radio, sometimes. But if that’s the only tool you have to drown out engine noise you’ll go deaf. That’s where Active Noise Control (ANC) comes in. Think of ANC as a more sophisticated version of noise cancelling headphones that you don’t need to wear. Not only does ANC help keep the car’s cabin quiet, but the QNX solution is software based and doesn’t require a dedicated hardware module, saving the OEM and the consumer money.

The best part about ANC is that it helps cars become more fuel efficient. Huh? To keep car interiors quiet, automakers add baffling in the doors and under the floor to help mute engine noise. Dragging around that extra weight costs fuel. So removing the ballast (I mean baffles) lets the automakers make more fuel-efficient cars. And with ANC, which helps eliminate the extra noise caused by this approach, everyone wins.

Beyond wideband
Next up: a new level of call quality. If you’ve had the pleasure of conversing between two newer smartphones (BlackBerry Z10 or Z30, iPhone 5, Nokia Lumina 520, Samsung Galaxy S4, ...) you may have noticed that the call sounded better than what you’re used to. That’s because many newer phones support something called wideband audio (or HD Voice), which transmits more audible frequencies to make the call sound clearer. That’s good, but QNX wants to show what’s possible beyond wideband. So in the QNX technology concept car for acoustics, we’re demoing a new audio feature called full-band stereo calling, which is like having phone calls with CD quality audio. A full-band call has over six times the transmitted frequency range of a standard call, and more than double that of wideband. And as the name suggests, full-band stereo provides two independent channels, adding to the depth and sense of presence, making the call quality something that just has to be experienced.

Sound like a V8, sip like a Volt
Lastly — we get to pump up the volume! The technology concept car for acoustics also sports engine sound enhancement (ESE), which plays synthesized engine sounds over speakers inside the car. With ESE, your engine appears to sound a little more throaty. It may not be obvious, but this is also a fuel saving technology! As carmakers look for creative ways to turn gasoline slurpers into sippers, they’re implementing technologies that dynamically modify engine cylinder firing. Those changes can sometimes make a perfectly powerful engine sound anemic, which negatively impacts customer first impressions. Unfortunately, most people want a car that sounds and performs like it has a huge V8 even if they expect it to sip gas like a Chevy Volt. Both ANC and ESE can help the customer get over their performance anxiety. ESE also lets drivers get in tune with their engine, making it easier to shift by ear.

If you’re up for a little fun, you can also use ESE to make your car sound like something completely different. We’re playing the ESE audio outside the car as well as inside it. The Kia is using QNX ESE audio to masquerade as another car. Tweet us at @QNX_Auto if you can guess what it is!

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