Wednesday, April 29, 2015

We showed you so

QNX has been building NFC functionality into concept cars since 2011. Now, with the advent of automotive-grade tags and chips, NFC may be coming to a dashboard near you.

Paul Leroux
Why does QNX transform vehicles like the Maserati QuattroPorte GTS, Mercedes-Benz CLA45, and Bentley Continental into technology concept cars? I can think of many reasons, but three stand out. First, the cars allow us to demonstrate the inherent flexibility and customizability of QNX technology. If you could put all of the cars side by side, you would quickly see that, while they all use the same QNX platform, each has a unique feature set and a distinctive look-and-feel — no two are alike. This flexibility is of immense importance to automakers, who, for reasons of market differentiation, need to deliver a unique brand experience in each marque or vehicle line. Alf Pollex, Head of Connected Car and Infotainment at Volkswagen, says it best: “the QNX platform... enables us to offer a full range of infotainment systems, from premium level to mass volume, using a single, proven software base.”

Second, the cars explore how thoughtful integration of new technologies can make driving easier, more enjoyable, and perhaps even a little safer. Case in point: the Maserati’s obstacle awareness display, which demonstrates how ADAS systems can aggregate data from ultrasonic and LiDAR sensors to help drivers become more aware of their surroundings. This display works much like a heads-up display, but instead of providing speed, RPM, or navigation information, it offers visual cues that help the driver gauge the direction and proximity of objects around the vehicle — pedestrians, for example.

Look ma, no menus: At 2012 CES, a QNX concept car
showcased how NFC can enable single-tap Bluetooth
phone pairing.
Third, the cars explore solutions that address real and immediate pain points. Take, for example, the pairing of Bluetooth phones. Many consumers find this task difficult and time-consuming; automakers, for their part, see it as a source of customer dissatisfaction. So, in 2011, we started to equip some of our concept cars with near field communication (NFC) technology that enables one-touch phone pairing. This pairing is as easy it sounds: you simply touch an NFC-enabled phone to an NFC tag embedded in the car’s console, and voilĂ , pairing with the car’s infotainment system happens automatically.

Prime time
NFC in the car holds much promise, but when, exactly, will it be ready for prime time? Pretty soon, as it turns out. In a recent article, “NFC looks to score big in cars,” Automotive Engineering International points to several vendors, including Broadcom, NXP, Melexis, Texas Instruments and ams AG, that have either announced or shipped automotive-grade NFC solutions. NXP, for example, expects that some of its NFC tags and chips will first go into production cars around 2016.

Mind you, NFC isn’t just for phone pairing. It can, for example, enable key-fob applications that allow phones to store user preferences for seat positions and radio stations. It can also enable use cases in which multiple drivers operate the same vehicle, such as car sharing or fleet management. The important thing is, it’s moving from concept to production, marking one more step in the seamless integration of cars and smartphones.

Did you know…
  • BMW embeds NFC tags not only in its cars, but also in print ads.
  • IHS has predicted that, in 2018, global shipments of NFC-equipped cellphones will reach 1.2 billion units.
  • NFC World publishes a living document that lists all of the NFC handsets available worldwide.

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