QNX helps Acura win "Digital Drive Car of the Year" award

Don't know about you, but I find "Digital Drive Car of the Year" a little hard to parse, grammatically speaking. After all, have you ever owned a digital drive car? I didn't think so.

That said, it's an interesting award. The folks who created it -- the bloggers at TECHNORIDE -- start from the premise that technology, not performance or upholstery, is the key differentiator in today's auto market. No arguments there. Also, they seem to prefer models that deliver the best technology bang for the buck, as well as the best driving experience. Good, that.

Top honors this year went to the Acura TL, which uses the QNX-based HandsFreeLink system. True to its name, this system allows drivers to make handsfree calls, using Bluetooth and voice recognition technology. Bluetooth, by the way, was a key prerequisite for winning the award.

The 10 runners-up included models from BMW, Infiniti, Mercedes, Nissan, Porsche, Volkswagen, and Audi. I'm pretty sure QNX is in some of these models. Will do some digging and let you know.

For the full skinny on the Digital Drive Car awards, check out the TECHNORIDE blog.


Nifty 50s

Any nifty 50s you'd like to share?


Embrace your inner Challenger

I drive a hybrid. No, not a gas/electric car, but a hybrid bicycle, which combines some of the speed of a road bike and with some of the ruggedness of a mountain bike. A nice compromise if you travel on both paved and unpaved roads.

My choice of ride comes down to a pretty simple philosophy: When possible, choose a vehicle that weighs less than you, rather than one that weighs 40 times more than you. If that makes me a tree hugger, then so be it.

Still, I grew up in the 60s, an era of gorgeously overpowered muscle cars. Back then, I was flat out in love with anything that had a V8. I spent endless hours reading about cars, drawing pictures of cars, building models of cars, and talking about cars. Juan Fangio was my hero; driving a 400 horsepower GTO, my ultimate fantasy.

Eventually, though, I grew up and discovered girls, guitars, and, somewhere along the way, a concern for the environment. The fantasy of cruising in a gas-guzzler lost its luster.

So do I welcome the next generation of electric cars? Definitely, though they're sure to hit a few speed bumps along the way. According to Lux Research president Matthew Nordan, 42% of the world’s lithium carbonate will be consumed if only 6.4% of the world’s cars use lithium ion batteries. A oddly framed statistic, but one that gives you pause nonetheless.

But, you know, even if electric cars fulfill their environmental promise, I really hope that governments avoid the temptation to regulate gas-powered muscle cars and supercars out of existence. I know this sounds irrational, given my distaste for burning gasoline. But, let's face it, there's nothing rationale about the relationship between humans and cars. Cars aren't simply a form of transportation; they also serve as a vehicle for expressing who are are and what we want people to think of us.

So, as much as I prefer to bike when possible, I still love beautiful, wickedly fast cars. I may not buy a Dodge Challenger for myself, but if my neighbor buys one and offers to take me out for a spin, you can bet I won't turn him down.

Maybe I'm not green enough. Or maybe I simply prefer to live in a world where humans have some latitude to indulge themselves. A world where the lion of fantasy can lie down with the lamb of practicality. A world that still has cool stuff.



Not just a pretty (inter)face

Hey, do you remember Open Look? It was the GUI specification used by QNX Windows, a windowing system for versions 2 to 4 of the QNX RTOS. Open Look had a clean, simple appearance based on the philosophy that the application, not the windowing system, should hold the user’s attention. Gaudy, it wasn’t.

QNX Windows appeared on the scene in 1990, back when most desktop PCs still used DOS. Amazingly, it could run on 16-bit 286 machines with 2MB of RAM — and, remember, we're talking about a true windowing system here, not a simple graphics library. Developers used QNX Windows for a variety of mission-critical applications, including mail-sorting machines for the US Postal Service and a statistical process control system for a Motorola semiconductor fab.

The QNX Windows file manager, circa 1990.

So why am I mentioning all this? Because, while other RTOS vendors offer programming interfaces, they provide little in the way of user interfaces — unless you count the command-line prompt. QNX, in comparison, has been at the forefront of embedded HMIs for as long as I can remember.

Witness the QNX Photon microGUI, the first windowing system based on a microkernel architecture. And the QNX graphics framework, which allows embedded developers to build user interfaces with Adobe Flash Lite and the OpenGL ES 3D API. (The QNX digital instrument cluster is a good example of an application that combines uses both Flash and OpenGL ES in the same display.) I find Flash support especially interesting, since it saves developers from having to code, and often recode, their GUI components by hand.

In fact, QNX has even begun to reach beyond graphical interfaces with its acoustic processing technology, which helps handsfree and voice recognition systems work more effectively.

Because, sometimes, a word is worth a thousand icons. Well, something like that. :-)


QNX helps heat up fusion research

A plasma isn’t a solid, a liquid, or a gas. It's a fourth state of matter that exhibits an array of unusual behaviors, which makes it pretty cool in my book. That said, some forms of plasma are hot. Very hot. So hot that no material can contain them. Like other forms of plasma, though, even hot plasmas can be contained by magnetic fields.

Taking advantage of that property, researchers at MIT are attempting to create hydrogen-based plasmas hot enough and dense enough to produce fusion reactions. Their ultimate goal: To create a simple, efficient source of electrical power that doesn’t churn out the radioactive wastes generated by today’s uranium-based fission reactors. Not a bad idea, given the growing demand for electricity worldwide. In China, for example, consumption is growing at more than 4% per year. The overall global rate isn’t far behind, at about 2.4%. Compounded yearly, that’s a lot of juice.

To understand what the MIT researchers are attempting, you have to travel back to the 1980s, when Voyager II detected plasma trapped in Jupiter's magnetosphere. That finding, according to Science Magazine, inspired the physicist Akira Hasegawa to propose a fusion reactor based on a magnetic dipole, which is simplest, most common type of magnetic field in the universe. As the name suggests, a dipole consists simply of a north pole and a south pole.

In a dipole reactor, a magnetically levitated, superconducting torus (picture a big metal donut floating in a vacuum chamber) generates lines of magnetic force similar to those that surround the Earth, Jupiter, and other magnetized planets. The reactor then uses pulses of microwave heating to create plasma discharges, which the magnetic field holds in place.

The MIT researchers call their project, appropriately enough, the Levitated Dipole Experiment (LDX). To levitate the torus, which weighs about 1200 pounds (550 kg), they use a high-temperature superconducting coil, mounted on top of the vacuum chamber. The levitation control system, which uses 8 laser beams to constantly monitor and fine-tune the power of the levitation coil, runs on the QNX Neutrino RTOS.

According to a paper written by members of the research team, QNX Neutrino “ensures that the feedback cycle runs deterministically with high reliability.” To implement the feedback algorithm, the system designers used Opal-RT’s RT-Lab and Mathworks Simulink.

From what I’ve read, the hot, dense fusion reactions inside a dipole-based reactor can produce energetic photons that heat the reactor; this heat can then be used to generate electrical power. The reactions also create charged particles that the reactor will trap in its magnetic fields. The net effect is a theoretically clean, yet efficient method of generating electricity.

Just one thing, though. The MIT researchers warn that levitated dipole reactors aren’t ready for prime time just yet — and probably won’t be for about another 40 years. So turn off that light, will you?


I’ve got two videos to show you. The first one shows the "first flight" of the LDX (times are approximate):

1) A pneumatic launcher raises the torus (donut).
2) The launcher retracts (0:13) downward as the torus begins to levitate.
3) The chamber darkens (0:28) and plasma begins to heat up.
4) The heating stops (0:42) and the plasma begins to dim.
5) The launchers catches the falling torus (1:15).

The second video, filmed by Discovery News, provides a bit more context. If you can, go straight to the -2:35 mark:

Being plasma challenged, I’m the last thing from an expert on the LDX. So I invite you to visit their site — http://alcpc1.psfc.mit.edu/ldx/ — to get the full skinny. (Funny expression, that.)

Random bits of life

  • Life magazine, now on Google
  • Life in miniature, as seen through the microscope
  • Monty Python (the folks who brought you the meaning of life), now officially on YouTube
  • QNX Touches Your Life


QNX helps U.S. military make the jump to software defined radio

The U.S. military uses about 30 families of radio systems — systems that, in many cases, can’t communicate with one another. This incompatibility is inconvenient, inefficient, and, on occasion, downright dangerous for military personnel.

It’s a serious problem. And to solve it, the Department of Defense (DoD) is investing heavily in software defined radio (SDR). The premise of SDR is simple: Rather than implement filters, signal detectors, and other radio components in hardware (the traditional model), you implement them in upgradeable software. This approach allows a single device to support multiple modulation schemes, wireless protocols, encryption standards, etc; it can also future-proof the device against new or updated standards that hit the airwaves.

The benefits extend far beyond military radios. By using SDR, a variety of products — including wireless basestations, public-service radios, cellphones, and even in-car telematics systems — can intelligently adapt to the evolving wireless landscape. Better yet, a single SDR radio can replace several conventional devices. Emergency personnel, for example, can communicate with one another without having to schlep multiple radios, as they often do today.

To make the jump to SDR, the DoD created the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program, pronounced “jitters.” This program promises to create a new generation of reconfigurable military radios that offer far greater interoperability for voice, data, and video communications than conventional fixed radios.

About 3 years ago, I wrote an article on why the QNX Neutrino RTOS is a good fit for JTRS SDR. Harris Corporation, the leading supplier of SDRs to the U.S. military, must agree with me, because they’ve recently disclosed that the Harris Falcon III radio family, which includes radios in vehicular, handheld, and “manpack” configurations, is based entirely on QNX Neutrino.

From what I’ve read, the DoD has already deployed tens of thousands of these radios in Irag, Afghanistan, and other areas. The radios include the Falcon III AN/PRC-152(C) handheld radio, hailed by the U.S. army as "one of the greatest inventions of 2007." Adulation aside, the AN/PRC-152(C) is the first SDR device to be certified as fully compliant with version 2.2 of the JTRS Software Communications Architecture (SCA).

The SCA is important, because it provides a “blueprint” for building JTRS radios. Among other things, it ensures that JTRS software applications can be ported and reused easily across platforms. To ensure this portability, the SCA encompasses two well-established software standards: the CORBA architecture and the POSIX application programming interface (API).

Because SCA compliance is mandated for JTRS radios, Harris had to use a POSIX RTOS for their Falcon III products. QNX Neutrino served as a good choice, not only because it is POSIX certified, but because it was designed from the start to support POSIX APIs -- POSIX is built into the very core of the OS. As a result, QNX Neutrino doesn’t need a performance robbing (and memory consuming) POSIX adaptation layer.

Wayback dept: All this talk of military radios brings me back to the '60s, when I was the only kid on the block to own a Johnny Seven Micro Helment phone set, which consisted of a microphone-equipped military-style helmet and an accompanying walkie talkie. It was a pretty cool toy, except for one thing: the helmet and walkie talkie were connected by a 30-foot wire. So you couldn't run anywhere without literally dragging your brother-in-arms with you. To view the original TV ad, click here.


QNX takes home an Elektra award

Back in September, I told you that the QNX Aviage acoustic processing suite had been shortlisted for an Elektra award. Well, I just got the news: QNX Aviage has won.

QNX Aviage is a small, modular software library that eliminates the dedicated hardware typically used to reduce noise and echo in automotive hands-free systems. As a result, automotive suppliers can build these systems for less -- which means that more cars can offer handsfree kits as standard equipment. A good thing, given that more and more jurisdictions are banning handheld cellphones in cars.

The suite has some cool features to help reduce driver distraction. For instance, it can dynamically raise volume levels during periods of high cabin noise, allowing the driver to hear the remote party without straining or fiddling with volume controls. It can also “fill in” the limited bandwidth of cellphone calls, making the remote party's voice fuller and more intelligible.

The suite also has a nifty remote-control utility that lets the developer interactively turn features on or off, tweak settings, adjust performance, log events, run diagnostics, etc. — all while a handsfree call is in progress:

Click to enlarge.

If you have a couple of minutes, check out this podcast interview on QNX Aviage. It outlines some of the challenges of building handsfree and speech-controlled systems -- such as navigation units that think the driver is saying "no, no, no, no, no" every time the car rolls across a rumble strip.

QNX received the Elektra last night in Munich, at the Electronica 2008 conference. Click here to see the entire list of award winners.


Totally random

  • Hey, babe, wanna go for a drive in my '59 Lincoln hybrid?
  • What happens when two high-priority threads ignore synchronization mechanisms on shared objects (thanks Bill)
  • The one velociraptor per child project (thanks JM)
  • Old Lady 1; Mercedes 0
  • QNX developers now come better ARMed


An x86 system that boots in one second? Yeah, sure, tell me another one...

The minute I get into work, I always do one thing before anything else: power up my PC. I then take off my jacket, pour myself a coffee, shoot the bull with co-workers, do a couple of neck stretches, listen to voice mail, and, if my PC is ready, sit down to work. Often, though, the machine is still busy, launching gosh knows what.

So if I tell you that an x86-based box can boot faster than you can say "one steamboat", I will totally understand if you think I'm trying to B.S. you. But humor me and check out the following video. It shows how the QNX Neutrino RTOS running on an Intel Atom-based Kontron nanoETXexpress-SP board can boot up (and launch a 3D OpenGL ES program) in 1 second:

I won't attempt a long explanation of how QNX does this: Dave Green, the engineer in the video, does a much better job than I ever could. In a nutshell, though, QNX's "fastboot" technology eliminates the need for a BIOS (a firmware component common to PCs and other x86 systems), thereby reducing the boot time of this system from 17 seconds to just 1 second.

Personally, I hope that Windows box never learns to boot so fast. Because I would really miss having that leisurely cup of coffee, shooting the bull with my co-workers, etc. I would, horrors of horrors, have to work instead. :-)


Why I didn't bike to work this morning

Ah, Ottawa in October: The beautiful autumn leaves, the crisp Fall mornings, and the wickedly unpredictable snow storms. Yup, it was Christmas in October this morning, and if you don't believe me, here's proof. First, here's what I saw when I approached QNX headquarters:

And here's a weird juxtaposition that I came across on a nearby property:

Mind you, I honestly enjoyed today's dump -- once I had finished shoveling my driveway, of course. To me, there's nothing quite as pretty as a new-fallen leaf on new-fallen snow:

For more pix of Ottawa in winter, click here.


More screenshots of the QNX digital instrument cluster

Last week, I promised to keep you posted on any updates to the QNX digital instrument cluster. The cluster team has been busy adding navigation displays, weather reports, and other gadgets, so here are two shots of the revised demo, one in day mode and the other in night mode.

Right now, the demo focuses on some of the cool possibilities that digital clusters bring to the car. In the real world, though, safety concerns will dictate exactly what information can be displayed when. For instance, the cluster might be able to display album art when the car is stopped, but not when the car is traveling 60 mph. But, you know, that's what I really like about digital clusters: They can be context sensitive and display information only when appropriate. Which means automakers can offer clusters that are less distracting and more useful.

Click to enlarge.

Also, in the real world, turn signals and a few other warning lights might have to be real bulbs or LEDs -- in some countries, that's the law. But even then, a digital cluster could, for example, provide a "backup" turn signal indicator in case a bulb failed.

Click to enlarge.

To create the cluster, QNX engineers are using Adobe Flash Lite 3 and OpenGL ES, both of which are supported by the QNX Aviage HMI Suite.

For a video of the cluster, click here.


Report from Convergence

This year, for the Convergence automotive conference, QNX did something it has never done before: mocked up an entire car interior to demonstrate how automakers can use QNX technology to create digital instrument clusters, rear-seat entertainment systems, handsfree communications units, and other infotainment products. At another level, QNX also wants to show how its technology enables connected automotive systems:
  • connected to the cloud (what people my age call the Internet)
  • connected to personal devices (e.g. iPods)
  • connected to roadside systems and other cars
  • connected to other systems within the car
I hope to get some video that demonstrates how QNX intends to achieve this, but in the meantime, here are a few stills from the Convergence tradeshow, which is going full throttle as I write.

In the first photo, QNX representatives are demonstrating a digital instrument cluster (which you can't see) while a rear-seat entertainment system (which you can see) plays in the foreground:

The next photo highlights QNX's success in the automotive market: 7.4 million cars, 50% of all factory-equipped handsfree systems, etc:

And, zooming back, here's a head-to-toe shot of the booth. Apparently, white is the new black in Detroit:

My thanks to Jennifer Evans, who found the time to take these photos despite her 24-hour job of making sure everything in the QNX booth runs smoothly.


QNX drives seven tons of armor-plated attitude

I recently came across an article on the Crusher, a 7-ton, QNX-based autonomous vehicle that can haul a payload of 8000 pounds. Developed by the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) at Carnegie Mellon University, the Crusher is part of the U.S. military's Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle Perceptor Integration (UPI) program. (Is it just me, or does that acronym have a few letters missing?)

The U.S. military has plans for the Crusher, such as performing reconnaissance in hostile areas and hauling supplies over rough terrain. They may also equip the Crusher with automatic weapons, which makes me wonder what Isacc Asimov would think of this beast.

I searched for the Crusher on YouTube and, sure enough, found a bunch of videos. I've included three: The first focuses on the sheer power and agility of the Crusher. The second shows how the Crusher will stop and "think" to determine the best way to cross a ditch, climb a hill, or negotiate an obstacle. And the third shows, among other things, how to control the Crusher with an XBox controller.

Here's the first video:

Here's the second; I recommend fast forwarding to the 1:00 mark:
[POSTSCRIPT: This video was removed from YouTube after this blog was posted.]

And here's the third:

To read more about the Crusher, click here.


A closer look at QNX's digital instrument cluster

On Friday, I posted a video of the digital instrument cluster that QNX will showcase this week at the Convergence auto show. I'm hoping to get some additional video footage, but in the meantime, here's a screenshot that shows a bit more detail. Click on the image to enlarge:

Click to enlarge.

I'll try to post more screenshots as the cluster evolves. I'll also try to root out some documentation on the cluster's software architecture -- it'd be interesting to see how this was implemented. Stay tuned.

Postscript, Oct 28: I've just added some updated screenshots of the cluster. To see them, click here.

Not your father's digital speedometer

Hey, remember those digital speedometers that some cars sported back in the 70s and 80s? You know, the ones that displayed your speed in huge flashing digits? The problem, of course, is that the display flickered at you every time you went faster or slower, which was practically all the time. Annoying as heck.

So when a colleague told me that QNX was working on a digital instrument cluster, my first reaction was "You've got to be kidding." But I spoke too soon; this thing is cool:

The cluster in this video was still being developed when the video was shot, so stay tuned: I hope to provide some updated videos or screenshots in the next few days. [Postscript: Since posting this entry, I've added some screenshots here and here.]

One thing I like about digital instrument clusters is that they're context sensitive: Put the car in drive, and you see a navigation display. Put it in reverse and you see a backup camera. And if they're done right, digital clusters can minimize driver distraction, since everything you need is right in front of you. No more looking over at a separate navigation screen or infotainment system -- everything is, quite literally, clustered in front of you.

And, besides, unlike your dad's digital speedometer, they're way cool.

BTW, QNX will be demoing this cluster -- along with some other very cool stuff -- at next week's Convergence 2008 automotive show, October 20 - 22. If you're in Detroit, check it out.


At last, a file system for the paranoid

Don't know about you, but I'm totally paranoid about losing my data. I back it up on an external hard drive that I leave unplugged 99% of the time -- just in case of a power surge. I also back it up on an external drive that I keep in my safety deposit box. If that's not enough, I do regular backups on CDs and DVDs. And call me crazy, but I also keep a USB flash drive handy for interim backups. If I'm not already a belt-and-suspenders man, then I'm damn close.

I've always been like this, but I got worse after one of my hard drives went south 5 years ago. Most of my files (photos, mostly) were backed up, but it took a lot of personal time -- along with 50 bucks' worth of data recovery software -- to rebuild the few files that weren't.

So while I don't usually have the patience for web seminars, I just might catch the "Building reliable file systems for embedded devices" webinar that QNX is hosting on Wednesday, October 22.

From what I can gather, the presenters will talk about QNX's "fail-safe" file system, which is supposed to "eliminate the data corruption and long integrity checks that can result from sudden power failures."

My only regret is that the file system is QNX-only: it won't work on my Windows box (damn). Which makes me wonder whether I should build a QNX file server for some of my critical data. Decisions, decisions.


The first annual On Q product awards

Guess what: Yesterday marked the first anniversary of the On Q blog. So, before I go any further, allow me to thank all of you — regular subscribers, insightful commentators, helpful colleagues, and occasional visitors — for the support you've shown. May the coming year's conversation be even more informative and entertaining than the first.

If there's anything I've learned over the past year, it's this: People use QNX to create some very cool applications — from snow blowers that drive themselves to proton-therapy systems that kill cancer cells. Which got me to thinking: What if QNX Software Systems held an annual awards competition that honored the coolest, most innovative uses of QNX technology?

Well, no such competition exists — yet. So, in the meantime, I’ve decided to hand out my own QNX awards. I’ve also decided that, in this competition, no one loses: everyone gets to win something. So if you don’t see your QNX-based system here, just leave a comment and nominate it. Better yet, tell us why you think it is the best in its category. And, remember, you’re perfectly free to make up your own categories. (I did!)

So, without further ado, let us proceed with the first annual On Q product awards:

Highest-flying QNX-based system
Laser camera system for Space Shuttle:

Deepest-diving QNX-based system
Autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) by MBARI:

Best QNX-based system for finding your way to Las Vegas
Two-way tie: General Motors OnStar and Chrysler MyGiG:

Best QNX-based system for letting loose at Las Vegas
IGT casino gaming machines:

Coolest QNX-based toy you can buy with all the loot you won in Las Vegas
Logitech Harmony 1000 remote control:

Best QNX-based system for storing your entire rockabilly collection
Harman/Kardon DMC 1000 media server:

Best QNX-based system for accompanying Rudolf Valentino movies
Wurlitzer organ at Disney’s El Capitan theater:

Photo copyright Adrienne Krock

Sharpest-focusing QNX-based system
INTRALASE laser eye-surgery system:

Farthest-focusing QNX-based system
China’s Yunnan robotic telescope

Most widely-heard QNX-based system
NTP 625 audio routers for China Radio International:

Tastiest QNX-based system
Process control system for making Caramilk bars:

QNX-based system most likely to stop you from eating Caramilk bars
Biospace body composition analyzer:

Most precise QNX-based system
Precitech machine and metrology systems:

Most mission-critical QNX-based system
AECL monitoring & control systems for nuclear reactors:

Greenest QNX-based system
Tridium Vykon building automation system for Boeing:

Most awesomely scalable QNX-based system
Cisco CRS-1 Router:

This list captures but a tiny fraction of the cool QNX systems out there — make it a bigger fraction by telling us about your own QNX-based device.


Totally Random


Will iPod touch users get more than they bargained for?

My colleague Bill Graham, a huge fan of Apple products, is sure to eat this one up: Yesterday, an EDN teardown report revealed that an IC in the new iPod touch supports both Bluetooth audio and FM reception.

From what I can tell, Apple has never claimed that the "touch" supports either of these features. In fact, until now, Apple has to refused to add FM reception to any iPod device.

So will future firmware updates make these features available to users? No word on that yet. But if it happens, anyone who has bought the second-generation iPod touch will literally get more than they bargained for.

Does this mean that I'm tempted more than ever to get one? Oh yeah.

Read the report here.


Concept cars of yesteryear

Yesterday, Rick DeMeis of Automotive Design Line posted some cool concept car images on his blog. But if you're looking for next-gen electric models, forget about it: These babies are pure, vintage Detroit, dating back to the 1950s and earlier. Consider, for example, this prototype Buick Wildcat:

Photo copyright 2008, Gene Ritvo

Comments on Rick's blog don't seem to be working this morning; otherwise, I'd have asked him to post more images. Rick, if you're reading this, how about it? :-)

To see the blog entry, click here.


Keeping intersections safe with QNX

The incident occurred more than 20 years ago, but I'm still ****ed off about it. My wife had just stepped into an intersection when, suddenly, a car came screaming around the corner. It missed her by inches. The driver, in his infinite wisdom, had decided to run a red light, without checking to see whether any pedestrians or vehicles were nearby.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

My wife narrowly missed becoming a statistic. Not everyone is so lucky. In fact, accidents at intersections account for 30% of vehicle crashes in the US. These accidents contribute to 50% of all traffic injuries and 25% of all traffic fatalities.

Still, it would be misleading to suggest that careless, arrogant drivers cause the majority of intersection accidents. Studies indicate that, in many cases, drivers simply misjudge gaps in traffic. For instance, a driver sees an oncoming vehicle, but miscalculates how fast it is approaching. Seconds later, passersby are calling 9-1-1.

Enter the Minnesota Rural Intersection Decision Support system (IDS) system. Designed by experts from the University of Minnesota, this QNX-controlled system aims to reduce accidents by providing drivers at rural intersections with better information about oncoming traffic.

To determine the state of an intersection, the IDS relies on several subsystems, including radar sensors, laser scanners, and a communications subsystem. It then uses a “driver interface” to display the information to drivers.

The designers chose the QNX Neutrino RTOS to control several of the system’s components, including the radar stations, the lidar stations, and the main controller computer.

To learn more about the IDS, click here.


This week's random hits

Check back every Friday for more random hits.


Using proton beams to treat cancer

Earlier today, CERN's Large Hadron Collider fired its first protons around a 27 kilometer tunnel. The news got me thinking of a QNX-based system that also fires protons — not to unlock the secrets of the universe, as in the case of the CERN collider, but to address a far more immediate problem: cancer.

To treat cancer, doctors have long depended on various forms of radiotherapy. While often effective, these techniques can damage healthy, cancer-free tissues that are located near or behind the tumor.

Enter proton therapy. Using this approach, a radiotherapist can precisely restrict cell damage to where the tumor is located, even if the tumor resides deep within the body. The radiotherapist can even "bend" the proton beam into the same shape as the tumor. This accuracy makes proton therapy useful for treating tumors located near vital organs. It can also reduce long-term effects sometimes associated with conventional forms of radiotherapy, particularly in children.

Mind you, there is a drawback: the equipment required to deliver proton therapy typically weighs hundreds of tons. Still, a growing number of proton therapy centers are opening in North America, Europe, and Asia.

One such center is the Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute (MPRI). Their proton therapy system (PTS), designed by Indiana University, consists of four main subsystems: beam delivery, dose delivery, patient positioning, and treatment control.

The dose delivery subsystem (DDS), which represents the business end of the PTS, runs on the QNX RTOS. It controls devices on the end nozzle and ensures that the patient receives the correct radiation dose. In fact, the DDS is responsible for performing several operations, such as manipulating the magnet controller, recording data from the nozzle’s beam detectors, and monitoring beam properties.

For more information on the PTS architecture, read this whitepaper.

For more information on proton therapy, check out this wikipedia article.

QNX gets Elektra-fied

Last week, I told you that a QNX-based media server took home an EISA Best Product award. At the risk of turning this blog into a trophy case, allow me to mention that QNX Software Systems has also been shortlisted for a 2008 Elektra award.

No, not this Electra:

And not this Elektra, either:

Rather, this Elektra:

Okay, so it isn't the sexiest Elektra. But it does honor hi-tech companies that make a difference. This year, the Elektra judges have chosen the QNX Aviage Acoustic Processing Suite as a finalist in the Embedded Systems category.

If you've never heard of QNX Aviage, it's a software library that eliminates the dedicated hardware typically used to reduce noise and echo in automotive hands-free systems. By reducing hardware costs, QNX Aviage allows more cars to ship with handsfree systems as standard equipment. And that means more people who insist on driving with a coffee cup in one hand and a cellphone in the other can now keep one hand on the wheel. The benefits of this cannot be underestimated.

Winners of the Elektra awards will be announced November 10, at the Electronica conference in Munich. For the complete list of Elektra finalists, click here.


This week's random hits

Check back every Friday for more random hits.

QNX-based media server takes home EISA award

I know that it may come as a shock, but often, judges hand out industry awards without laying their hands on a single product. They simply review the written award submissions and dole out prizes based on what they’ve read.

The European Imaging and Sound Association (EISA) takes a different approach. It insists that the products submitted for its annual awards are made available for detailed, hands-on evaluation. And this year, the evaluation process resulted in an EISA Best Product award for the QNX-based Harman Kardon DMC 1000 media server.

Equipped with a 250GB internal hard drive, the DMC 1000 can digitize and catalogue more than 60,000 songs. It comes with USB jacks and memory-card slots, so you can quickly stock up the hard drive with music, movies, and photos from all your personal devices: iPods, cell phones, digital cameras, camcorders, thumb drives, etc. Other features include a 1080p upscaling DVD player and the ability to distribute 4 audio streams throughout your home.

I’m in the process of digitizing analog tapes that I recorded almost 30 years ago. If someone told me in 1980 that I would eventually digitize this material and play it on a home media server or handheld MP3 player, I’d have stared at them as if they had 3 heads. (A tape deck with 3 heads, on the other hand, I would have gladly welcomed.) Things have changed since then, and thank goodness for that: I'll take a single, sleek DMC 1000 over a wall of cassettes any day.

For more info on the DMC 1000, check out the Design News article, "New Media Center Stops Blue Screen of Death."


This week's random hits

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Neither too wet nor too dry

Measuring microwaves to keep things just right

Biking to work on a gravel road has given me a new appreciation of moisture. If the road becomes too wet, I get coated with mud. Too dry, and I get coated with dust.

Either way, it’s a minor inconvenience. But for companies that handle coal, iron ore, and other minerals, managing moisture is serious business. If the ore becomes too dry, it releases dust that can threaten the health of miners and of people living in nearby communities. In fact, coal dust and iron-ore dust both contribute to a variety of respiratory diseases, including cancer.

The solution is simple: moisten the ore to keep the dust in check. But how much moisture? Add too little, and you haven't solved the problem. Add too much, and the ore:

  • sticks to container surfaces and becomes hard to handle
  • becomes heavier and thus more expensive to ship
  • can shift suddenly during shipment, with potentially disastrous
  • wastes water that, in many mining areas, is in scarce supply

    Enter an Australian company called Intalysis Pty Ltd (now Thermo Scientific). They have developed QNX-based, low-frequency microwave (LFM) analyzers that continuously measure the moisture content of ore as it moves along conveyer belts. Using this information, a mining company can add just the right amount of moisture to keep its ore both safe and easy to handle.

    The basic premise is simple: When microwaves hit moist materials, they slow down and weaken. By measuring this attentuation, the system can calculate the ore’s moisture content. There are, of course, challenges, such as ensuring accurate measurements when using fast, high-capacity conveyors.

    To help address these issues, the designers of the LFM3 analyzer chose the QNX Neutrino OS, which supports both the fast data-acquisition rates and high uptimes needed by this application.

    For more information on the LFM3, click here.