Thursday, January 30, 2014

QNX acoustics technology shortlisted for 2014 embedded AWARD

Okay, first things first. I didn't get the capitalization wrong. The name of the award really is spelled that way. I thought it odd at first, but I'm getting used to it. And besides, who am I to complain? After all, I spend a good part of my life promoting a product whose name is spelled all uppercase, and... where was I? Oh yes, the award!

Every year, the folks who organize the embedded world Exhibition&Conference hold the embedded AWARDs, which honor the most innovative software, hardware, and tools for embedded developers. And this year, the competition judges selected QNX Acoustics for Active Noise Control as a finalist in the software category.

If you aren’t familiar with our ANC solution, allow me to provide an overview — which will also help explain why the embedded AWARD judges are so impressed.

Automakers need to reduce fuel consumption. And to do that, they employ techniques such as variable engine displacement and operating the engine at lower RPM. These techniques may save gas, but they also result in "boom" noise that permeates the car's interior and can lead to driver distraction. And who needs more distraction?

QNX Acoustics for Active Noise Control can integrate 
seamlessly into a vehicle's infotainment system.
To reduce this noise, automakers use ANC, which plays “anti-noise” (sound proportional but inverted to the offending engine tones) over the car's speakers. The problem is, existing ANC systems require dedicated hardware, which adds design complexity, not to mention significant Bill of Materials costs. And who needs more costs?

Enter QNX Acoustics for ANC. Rather than use dedicated hardware, QNX ANC provides a software library that can run on the existing DSP or CPU of the car's head unit or audio system. This approach not only reduces hardware costs, also enables better performance, faster development, and more design flexibility. I could go on, but I will let my colleague Tina Jeffrey provide the full skinny.

Did I mention? This wouldn’t be the first time QNX Software Systems is tapped for an embedded AWARD. It has won two so far, in 2006 and 2004, for innovations in multi-core and power-management technology. It was also a finalist in 2010, for its persistent publish/subscribe messaging. Here's to making it a hat trick.

Friday, January 10, 2014

QNX at CES: The media’s take

No, CES isn’t over yet. But the technology concept cars showcased in the QNX booth have already stoked the interest of journalists attending the event — and even of some not attending the event. So here, in no particular order, are examples of what they're saying.

Oh, and I’ve added a couple of stories that aren’t strictly CES-related, but appeared this week. They were too relevant to pass up.

That's it for now. I aim to post more stories and videos early next week. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

In good company: QNX partner solutions at 2014 CES

Guest post by Peter McCarthy of the QNX global partnerships team

Peter McCarthy
If anyone thinks that creating an infotainment system is easy, they obviously haven’t thought about it hard enough. It is, in fact, a massive undertaking that requires seamless integration of navigation engines, voice technologies, app environments, HMI tools, Internet music services, smartphone connectivity, automotive-hardened processors — the list goes on.

No single company could possibly offer all of these technologies. And even if it could, it still wouldn’t address the needs of automakers and tier one suppliers, who need the power of choice. Any company building an infotainment system needs the flexibility to combine Navigation Engine A with Processor B and Bluetooth Solution C.

Enabling customers to enjoy such choice without worrying about integration issues is something that QNX works very hard at. For evidence, look no further than our latest technology concept car, a modified Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG, which debuted this week at our CES booth. The car integrates an array of partner tech, including:

Meanwhile, the head unit in our reference vehicle, also featured in the QNX booth, integrates several partner apps and holds the distinction of being the world’s first in-vehicle implementation of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Automotive Solutions. And if that’s not enough, our booth contains demos of a navigation engine from Aisin AW and a digital instrument cluster built with HMI tools from HI Corporation.

Mind you, the action isn’t restricted to the QNX booth. Several partners have also gotten into the act and are demonstrating QNX-based systems in their CES booths and meeting rooms. For instance:

  • Elektrobit — Demonstrating a new concept electric vehicle that sports an instrument cluster and infotainment system based on the QNX Neutrino Realtime Operating System.
  • Freescale — Demonstrating the QNX CAR Platform for Infotainment on its i.MX 6 Applications Processors for Automotive.
  • Gracenote — Demonstrating how its technology can personalize the in-vehicle music experience, using a system based on the QNX Neutrino OS.
  • NVIDIA — Demonstrating Audi's newest infotainment system featuring the NVIDIA Tegra processor and the QNX Neutrino OS.
  • Qualcomm — Demonstrating the QNX CAR Platform on Snapdragon Automotive Solutions.
  • Red Bend Software — Demonstrating virtualization technology that runs the QNX CAR Platform and a digital instrument cluster on dual displays driven by a single processor.
  • Texas Instruments — Demonstrating the QNX CAR Platform running on its latest Jacinto processors

For the fully skinny on QNX partner technology at CES, I invite you to check out our press release, along with joint announcements that we have issued with Aisin AW, HERE, HI Corporation, and Qualcomm.

About Peter
When he isn't talking on oversized mobile phones, Peter McCarthy serves as director of global partnerships at QNX Software Systems, where he is responsible for establishing and fostering partnerships with technology and services companies in all of the company's target industries.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"I want one"

Yesterday, I bemoaned that words and pictures could never capture the unique experience of being in one of the new QNX technology concept cars. But you know what? Video comes a little bit closer.

Of course, it can't capture everything. For instance, it can't reproduce the richness and clarity of the cars' full-band and wideband phone calls, or the sheer auditory relief offered by QNX active noise control software. But it can capture the reaction of someone experiencing these technologies.

For instance, in this video, I love watching how Adam from reacts to our latest innovations in automotive acoustics. Especially the part where says "I want one."

Did I mention? The clip also contains footage of our infotainment and digital cluster systems in action. Check it out:

A big thanks to Adam and the CrackBerry team for visiting us at CES.

QNX at CES: a key fob on steroids

Have you ever wished that your key fob could do more than lock and unlock doors, and chirp your horn? If so, you’ll be interested in some great tech that QNX Software Systems has developed in partnership with DotLinker and is demonstrating this week at CES.

To show what this technology can do, we’ve created a custom “key fob” app that connects to our Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG technology concept car. The app is written in HTML5, our cross-platform language of choice, so it will run on any smartphone. Here is the app’s main menu:

Remote repair, over the air
A really cool feature of this technology is that the connection to your car is hosted on a cloud service, thanks to our DotLinker integration. This approach could allow multiple devices owned by you, your spouse, or your kids to access the vehicle's state simultaneously. It could also allow your dealership to access the vehicle’s state online — with your permission of course — without having you bring the car into the shop. The dealer tech could simply pull up a management console on an iPad to see what’s wrong, order the parts you need, and book a single, quick fix-it appointment:

If the problem can be fixed by software, that same technician could make changes over the air. It might be as simple as setting a Bluetooth pairing option that you can’t find (aka remote device management), or downloading new software to the car (aka firmware over-the-air updates):

Dodging the vortex
How about a remote start from anywhere? The Buick Enclave with OnStar shows just how nice this can be when it’s bitter cold outside and you’re beyond traditional key-fob distance. This feature should come in handy this week with the dreaded “Polar Vortex”! Also, you never know when a coworker might need to borrow your ice scraper out of the trunk — stay nice and warm inside while he or she gets it. If it ever does get back to hot summer days (and it will, eventually), this same remote access could let you open your car’s sunroof or windows.

The key fob app supports remote start; remote open/close of doors, windows, roof, and trunk; and, for good measure, remote control of turn signals:

Where did I park that thing?
“Hey kids, meet me back at the car!” Finding your vehicle’s location is a modern necessity, especially when the parking lot is bigger than the state of Rhode Island. Okay, the Las Vegas Convention Center isn’t that big, but it sure feels that way by the end of the show:

Backseat DJ
Finally, what about controlling the car’s media player from the phone? Let your kids DJ the car’s playlist from the back seat from their tablets or smartphones to keep the trip to Grandma’s entertaining. Just remember you gave them that power when they dish up their favorite screamo band, “A Scar for the Wicked”.

What if?
Now imagine... what if your next car came with a key-fob app? What features would you hope to see? And what do you think would be the killer key-fob feature of all time? Over-the-air updates? Remote location tracking? Or something completely different?

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!

The wraps are off! First look at the new QNX technology concept car

A quick tour of one of the vehicles that QNX is unveiling at 2014 CES

You know what? Writing this post isn’t easy. All I’ve got are words and pictures, and neither could ever do justice to the user experience offered by the new QNX technology concept car. They cannot, for example, recreate the rich, luminous sound of the car’s full-band and wide-band hands-free calls. Nor can they evoke how the car blends speech recognition with a touch interface and physical controls to make navigation, Internet radio, and other applications wonderfully easy to use.

But on second thought, words and pictures aren’t that bad. Especially when the car — and the in-dash systems that the QNX concept team created for it — are so downright gorgeous. So what are we sitting around for? Time for a tour!

Actually... hold that thought. I just want to mention that, if you visit our Flickr page, you can find full-resolution versions of most of the images I've posted here. Because why settle for low res? Okay, back to the tour.

The car
I've got two things to say here. First, the car is based on a Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG. If you guessed the model correctly based on the teaser images we published on the QNX website, I bow in homage to your eagle eye. Second, while we snapped this photo in the QNX garage, don’t think for a minute that the garage is ever this neat and tidy. On any given day, it’s chock full of drill presses, tool boxes, work tables, embedded boards, and QNX engineers joyously modding the world’s coolest cars — exactly the kind of place you expect it to be. And want it to be! But to humor the photographer, we (temporarily) made this corner clutter-free. We're nice that way.

The dash
Let's get behind the wheel, where you can see the car's custom-built digital instrument cluster and infotainment system. The bold design, the clean layout, the super-easy-to-access controls — they all add up to systems you want to interact with. Just as important, the look-and-feel of the instrument cluster and infotainment system are totally different from the corresponding systems in our previous concept car — an excellent illustration of how the QNX platform can help customers create their own branded experiences.

The multi-talented cluster
Time to zoom in on the digital instrument cluster, which helps simplify driving tasks and minimize distraction with an impressive array of features. Turn-by-turn directions pulled from the navigation system? Check. Video feed from front and rear-view cameras? Check. Notifications of incoming phone calls? Check. Alerts of incoming text messages, which you can listen to at the touch of a steering-wheel button? Check.

The Android app support
Automakers want to tap into the talents of the mobile app community, and the QNX CAR Platform for Infotainment helps them do just that, with built-in support for Android, OpenGL ES, and HTML5. In the concept car, for example, you'll find an Android Jellybean version of iHeartRadio, Clear Channel’s digital radio service, running in a secure application container. The QNX CAR Platform takes this same sandboxed approach to running HTML5 apps — perfect for protecting both the HMI and the overall system from unpredictable web content:

Helping you get there in more ways than one
We designed the QNX CAR Platform to give automotive developers the greatest possible choice and flexibility. And that’s exactly what you see when it comes to navigation. For instance, the car supports navigation from Elektrobit:

and from HERE:

and from Kotei Informatics:

If that’s not enough, a demo system in the QNX booth at CES also demonstrates a navigation system from Aisin AW — more on that in an upcoming post.

Pardon me while I barge in
As I alluded earlier, what you can't see in the new concept car is just as important as what you can see. For instance, if you look at this image, you'll see the infotainment system's media player. But what you can't see is new acoustics technology from QNX that lets you "barge in" and issue voice commands even when a song is playing. How cool is that?

When you find yourself in times of trouble...
... don't let it be, but rather, check and see. And to do that, you can use the infotainment system's virtual mechanic, which keeps tabs on your car's health, including fluid levels, brake wear, and, in this case, low tire pressure:

The cloud connection
Hold on, what's this? It looks like a smartphone app with an interface similar to that of the virtual mechanic, above. In fact, it's a lot more than that, and it touches on some cool (and very new) technology that can help cars become fully managed citizens of the cloud. More on that in an upcoming post.

That's it for now. For more details on what QNX is showcasing this week at CES, check out the press releases posted on the QNX website. And stay tuned to this channel for further updates from 2014 CES — including a profile of our very new QNX technology concept car for acoustics.