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.