Tuesday, July 30, 2013

DevCon5 recap: building apps for cars

Tina Jeffrey
Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the DevCon5 HTML5 & Mobile App Developers Conference, held at New York University in the heart of NYC. The conference was abuzz with the latest and greatest web technologies for a variety of markets, including gaming, TV, enterprise, mobile, retail, and automotive.

The recurring theme throughout the event was that HTML5 is mainstream. Even though HTML5 still requires some ripening as a technology, it is definitely the burgeoning choice for app developers who wish to get their apps onto as many platforms as possible, quickly and cost effectively. And when a developer is confronted with a situation where HTML5 falls short (perhaps a feature that isn’t yet available), then hybrid is always an option. At the end of the day, user experience is king, and developers need to design and ship apps that offer a great experience and keep users engaged, regardless of the technology used.

Mainstream mobile device platforms all have web browsers to support HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript. And there’s definitely no shortage of mobile web development frameworks to build consumer and enterprise apps that look and perform like native programs. Many of these frameworks were discussed at the conference, including jQuery Mobile, Dojo Mobile, Sencha Touch, and Angular JS. Terry Ryan of Adobe walked through building a PhoneGap app and discussed how the PhoneGap Build tool lets programmers upload their code to a cloud compiler and automatically generate apps for every supported platform — very cool.

My colleague Rich Balsewich, senior enterprise developer at BlackBerry, hit a homerun with his presentation on the multiple paths to building apps. He walked us through developing an HTML5 app from end to end, and covered future features and platforms, including the automobile. A special shout-out to Rich for plugging my session “The Power of HTML5 in the Automobile” held later that afternoon.

My talk provided app developers with some insight into creating apps for the car, and discussed the success factors that will enable automakers to leverage mobile development — key to achieving a rich, personalized, connected user experience. Let me summarize with the salient points:

What’s needed

What we're doing about it

The automotive community wants apps, and HTML5 provides a common app platform for infotainment systems. We’ve implemented an HTML5 application framework in the QNX CAR Platform for Infotainment.
Automotive companies must leverage the broad mobile developer ecosystem to bring differentiated automotive apps and services to the car. We’re helping by getting the word out and by building a cloud-based app repository that will enable qualified app partners to get their apps in front of automotive companies. We plan to roll out this repository with the release of the QNX CAR Platform 2.1 in the fall.
The developer community needs standardized automotive APIs. We’re co-chairing the W3C Automotive and Web Platform Business Group, which has a mandate to create a draft specification of a vehicle data API. We’re also designing the QNX CAR Platform APIs to be Apache Cordova-compliant.
Automotive platform vendors must supply tools that enable app developers to build and test their apps. We plan to release the QNX CAR Platform 2.1 with open, accessible tooling to make it easy for developers to test their apps in a software-only environment.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

C3 recap: The future of the connected car

UPDATE: CE Week has uploaded audio and video of the C3 panels that Derek covers in this post. To hear what experts from companies like AT&T, BMW, Delphi, GM, and QNX see on the horizon for the connected car, visit the Connected Car Conference website — Ed.

Derek Kuhn
“Automotive has always been a wellspring of technology and innovation.” Those ten words, spoken by Doug Newcomb, car technology consultant and conference chair — and occasional QNX blog contributor — brought the Connected Car Conference (C3) to a successful close. The conference, co-located with CEA’s CE Week in New York City, featured panels on issues and trends for the connected car: big data, the future of radio, driver distraction, and more.

I was honored to sit on a panel that included executives from General Motors, AT&T Emerging Devices, and Audiovox, and that tackled the question on the minds of everyone in the industry: how can cars keep pace with consumer electronics? Traditionally, the speed of car development has trailed consumer devices, but with consumers looking at their cars as another connected gadget, the industry is working to bring technology into the car faster, while still providing a safe, reliable experience. As GM’s Tim Nixon put it, “we want to make the car better from the day you drive it off the lot.”

Striking a balance
Tim’s comment touches on something we frequently discuss — the significance of over-the-air (OTA) updates in ensuring that a car always has the latest technology. In fact, my colleague, Tina Jeffrey, just wrote a blog post on the topic; it's worth a read. Another point that came up is the need to balance security with consumers’ desire for cutting-edge technology. As I pointed out, not all infotainment systems are created equal — security shouldn’t be an afterthought in the pursuit of the latest and greatest tech. Rather, it should be deeply engrained in each step of the software development process. At the same time, consumer choice also has to be balanced with what OEMs are comfortable with.

Driving big data
John Quain of the NYT hosts the big data panel.
Photo: Doug Newcomb
John Quain of the New York Times hosted a panel on big data, which was full of insights on how data is being used to connect drivers and their cars. In response to the question, “how can big data in automotive save lives?” Delphi’s Doug Welk commented that, while data on crashes was abundant and readily available, data on near misses — which is even more important to understanding how to prevent accidents — is scant. Telenav’s Niall Berkey pointed out something that my colleague Andrew Poliak often discusses: the importance of the car as a sensor. For instance, by using information on how a driver is behaving, a car could activate assisted-driving technologies to reduce the likelihood of an accident.

Dealing with distraction
During the “Dealing with Driver Distraction” panel, representatives from the Auto Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Nuance, NVIDIA, and Pioneer spoke on how the industry is working to curb distraction. Gloria Bergquist of the Auto Alliance stated that the concern is nothing new; when car radios were first introduced in the middle of the last century, industry watchers claimed that drivers’ attention would be diverted by the novelty.

Gloria also drew from her organization’s recent report, which showed that most drivers overestimate how well they can handle distractions and think that it’s other drivers who can’t cope. Erik Clauson of Nuance discussed how voice recognition technologies — like the QNX intent framework — can play a large role in decreasing the cognitive load of drivers. Dave Anderson of NVIDIA defended skeumorphism — a design aesthetic that has received much criticism as of late — as a way to increase the intuitiveness of user interfaces and therefore decrease distraction. For example, digital instrument clusters that look like conventional (and familiar) analog instruments can enhance the driving experience.

Continuing the conversation
The day ended with a networking reception — a unique opportunity to pick the brains of the some of the industry’s thought leaders and observers. While I got to spend only a short time in New York for the event, I am look forward to next year when we can continue this conversation on the industry’s challenges and innovations.

Monday, July 8, 2013

UN agencies take major step towards international standards for driver distraction

June 27 marked a historic event in Geneva, Switzerland — an event that could ultimately lead to internationally harmonized vehicle regulations and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) standards to address driver distraction.

The event was a workshop titled "Intelligent transport systems in emerging markets — drivers for safe and sustainable growth". The title may sound innocuous, but don’t let that fool you. It only touches the surface of what was really going on.

So what, exactly, made this event so important? It was the first joint meeting of the United Nations (UN) agencies that deal with automotive regulations and ICT standards/radio spectrum allocation: the UNECE World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (UNECE WP.29) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), respectively. During the opening of the workshop, Eva Molnar (director, UNECE Transport Division) and Malcolm Johnson (director, ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau) spoke about the historic significance of this event and how they hoped it would be the beginning of a close collaboration.

This is big news. The possibility of vehicle regulations by the UNECE WP.29 may force automakers to work with the ITU, which has been working to develop comprehensive, internationally agreed standards to address driver distraction caused by mobile devices and other ICTs. Previous attempts such as the ITU-T Focus Group on Driver Distraction (FG Distraction) have had only limited success at engaging the automotive industry. See the FG Distraction reports for more information on the current state of such comprehensive standards.

Not if, but when
Regulation of ICTs could also occur. Strictly speaking, ITU-T Recommendations are non-binding, but they can become mandatory if referenced in a regulation by a national authority such as the FCC in the US. Increasing pressure to regulate use of ICTs in vehicles and the likely harmonization of ITU-T Recommendations with UNECE WP.29 vehicle regulations make regulations based on ITU-T Recommendations a real possibility.

Regulation of automotive and ICT equipment used by drivers isn’t a question of "if", but of "when". That said, many paths could lead to such regulation, some better than others. For example, authorities could jump the gun and issue regulations before good solutions are in place — and actually make the situation worse. With that in mind, let's hope that the step taken on June 27 is the first of many down a path that leads us to internationally harmonized standards and regulations that truly address unsafe driver interaction with ICTs.