Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bad idea, good idea

Why equip cars with external-sounding speakers? I thought you'd never ask. As it turns out, it can be a really bad idea. Or a really good one.

Here, for example, is a case where bad arguably prevails:

Source: Modern Mechanix blog

No doubt, the person who devised this system in 1931 thought it a brilliant, or at least entertaining, idea. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and the era of the "auto speaker," with its potential to scare the living daylights out of pedestrians, never came to pass.

But here's the thing: equipping cars with external-sounding speakers can be a great idea, when done for the right reasons. For example, some hybrid and electric vehicles are dangerously quiet for bicyclists and visually impaired pedestrians. Adding speakers to emit audible alerts or to project synthesized engine sounds can be just what the doctor ordered. Or rather, what the parliament ordered: earlier this month, members of the European Parliament stated that they want automakers to install acoustic alerting systems in hybrid vehicles by July 2019.

Mind you, safety isn't the only reason to project synthesized engine sounds. For example, fuel-saving techniques can make even powerful engines sound wimpy — a problem when high performance is a key ingredient of a car's branding. In that case, the automaker may wish to project synthesized engine sounds over both external and internal speakers. The speakers can help preserve the car's wow factor (provided they're not too loud) and the internal speakers, in particular, can make it easier for car owners who drive manual to shift gears by ear. The QNX concept car for acoustics offers a good example of this technology in action.

All of which to say, engine sound enhancement, also known as ESE, is here to stay. And it's not a bad time to be in the automotive-speaker business, either.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The next chapter in car infotainment: seamless mobile integration

Tina Jeffrey
According to a survey from Forrester Research, 50% of North Americans who plan to buy cars in the next 12 months say that technology options will play an important role in their purchasing decisions. The fact is, consumers want to remain connected all the time; they don’t want to park their digital lifestyle while driving. This begs the question: what’s an automaker to do?

Allow consumers to bring in content and apps on their mobile devices. We are becoming increasingly attached to our smartphones, and this is driving a trend towards mobile-centric car infotainment. The trend is of particular benefit to buyers of low-end vehicles, in which built-in features such as navigation and speech recognition can be cost prohibitive. A smartphone-driven head unit reduces costs by leveraging the existing connectivity and processing power of the mobile device; it also provides easy access to apps the consumer has already downloaded. In fact, integration between the mobile device and head unit offers numerous benefits: it helps the car keep pace with the consumer-device lifecycle, it endows the car with app store capabilities, and it lets the car connect to the cloud through the mobile device, eliminating the need for a built-in connection.

Using the phone's connectivity and
processing power to deliver apps and
software updates.
Design in-vehicle systems to be compatible with all leading smartphones. To satisfy this requirement, the vehicle must support both proprietary and standards-based connectivity protocols, using Bluetooth, USB, and Wi-Fi. Automakers will need to deliver platforms that include support for CarPlay, iPod Out (for older Apple devices), DLNA (for BlackBerry phones and other devices), MirrorLink, and Miracast, as well as the solution that the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) promises to reveal later this year. By offering this widespread connectivity, automakers can avoid snubbing any significant portion of their prospective customer base.

Leverage and enable the mobile development community to build the apps consumers want. With companies like Apple and Google now in the fray, native brought-in apps will be a certainty, but automakers should continue to embrace HTML5 as an application platform, given its ”write once, run anywhere” mantra. HTML5 remains the most widely used cross-platform application environment and it gives automakers access to the largest pool of developers worldwide. And, as the first W3C vehicle information API specification is ratified, HTML5 application developers will be able to access vehicle information and develop compelling, car-appropriate apps that become an integral part of our daily commute.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

12 autonomous car articles worth reading

You know what's fascinating about autonomous cars? Everything. They raise as many questions as they do answers, and many of those questions drive right to the heart of how we see ourselves and the world around us. For instance, will autonomous cars introduce a new era of independence for the elderly? Will they change the very nature of car ownership? Will they reduce traffic fatalities and help make traffic jams a thing of the past?

Technically, legally, economically, and socially, autonomous cars are a game-changer. I like thinking about them, and I like reading what other people think about them. And just what have I been reading? I thought you'd never ask. Here, in no particular order, are 12 articles that have caught my eye in the last month.

So there you have it. I don't, of course, agree with every point in every article, but they have all taught me something I didn't know or clarified something I already knew. I hope they do the same for you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

QNX helps drive new autonomous vehicle project

Have I ever mentioned the QNX-in-Education program? Over the decades, it has supported an array of university research projects, in fields ranging from humanoid robotics to autonomous aircraft. Harvard University, for example, has been a program member for more than 20 years, using QNX technology to measure and analyze ozone depletion in the stratosphere.

So, on the one hand, QNX Software Systems supports scientific and engineering research. On the other hand, it's a leader in automotive software. You know what that means: it was only a matter of time before those two passions came together. And in fact, QNX has just announced its role in DEEVA, a new autonomous car project from the Artificial Vision and Intelligent Systems Laboratory (VisLab) of the University of Parma.

A glimpse of DEEVA (Source VisLab).

The folks at VisLab already have several autonomous projects under the belts. Last year, for example, they launched a self-driving car that can negotiate downtown rush-hour traffic and complex situations like traffic circles, traffic lights, and pedestrian crossings. DEEVA incorporates the team's latest insights into autonomous drive and features a rich set of sensors that deliver a complete 3D view of the circumference of the vehicle.

With its 30-year history in safety-critical systems, QNX OS technology offers a natural choice for a project like DEEVA. According to Professor Alberto Broggi, president and CEO of VisLab, "in the design of our vehicle, we selected building blocks offering high reliability with proven safety records; the operating system powering the vital elements of the vehicle is one of those and is why we chose the QNX OS.”

The QNX OS controls several systems in DEEVA, including path and trajectory planning, realtime fusion of laser data and visual data, and the user interface.

You can read the press release here and see photos of DEEVA here