The Canon G11: When less is more

Has Canon lost its mind? It recently announced that it will replace the popular G10 digital camera, which boasts 14.7 megapixels and a 3" LCD, with the new G11, which has only 10 megapixels and a 2.8" LCD.

Canon is crazy all right — like a fox. Let me explain.

First, the sensor resolution. Almost 15 megapixels may sound impressive, but packing that many photoreceptors onto a small sensor creates a lot of unwanted image noise, especially at higher ISOs. As a result, the G10 exhibits phenomenal image quality at ISO 80 and 100, but middling quality at 200 and rather poor quality at 400 and higher. So if you want to use the camera in low-light conditions, your options are limited.

Reducing the pixel count from 14.7 million to 10 million should address this problem and help the new G11 produce clean, relatively noise-free images at ISO 400 and possibly higher. Admittedly, a 10 megapixel sensor doesn't offer the same resolution as a 14.7 megapixel sensor, but the differences are smaller than you would expect. In fact, I've used the G10 at its 5 megapixel setting and was still impressed by the image detail — you can blame the (excellent) lens for that.

As for the smaller LCD, Canon has done the smart thing and equipped the G11 with a tilt-and-swivel LCD screen — the LCD on the G10 was static. As a result, Canon has had to make the LCD itself a wee bit smaller. If you've ever used a tilt-and-swivel LCD, I don't have to tell you how much it encourages photographic creativity. You can shoot at ground level, over your head, around corners — you name it — and still see exactly what you're shooting. All without wrenching your neck.

In fact, tilt-and-swivel LCDs were a hallmark of the Canon G series until the G7 model, when Canon — much to the dismay of G-series enthusiasts — decided to go with a static LCD. Canon was criticized for this move, and rightfully so. It has also been criticized for equipping the G10 with such a high-resolution image sensor when a slightly lower-res sensor would produce cleaner images at high ISOs and in lower light.

All of which makes the G11 so important. Because it signals that Canon is willing to listen to its critics and do the right thing.

Just one question: Will those same critics — and the market at large — also do the right thing and embrace a high-end compact camera that dares to drop out of the megapixel wars in the pursuit of a better photographic experience? I certainly hope so, because I think Canon deserves to be rewarded for this move.

The problem is, I bet a lot of people will dismiss the G11 because it doesn't boast the 12, 13, or 14 megapixels of other, cheaper compacts. And that would be, well, crazy.


Building a digital instrument cluster? Read this first.

Digital instrument clusters may be cool, but if your development team takes on the challenge of building one, expect a development path dotted with some unexpected twists and turns.

This is especially true if the team has built only analog speedometers and gauges in the past. Suddenly, everyone has to migrate from the 8- or 16-bit world to the 32-bit world. And that means a new tool chain, a new operating system, and a new way of thinking about software development.

For example:
  • Yesterday, you used a relatively simple task loop. Today, you have to create multithreaded apps.

  • Yesterday, you used static memory management. Today, you must allow for a dynamic heap and test carefully for potential heap leaks.

  • Yesterday, you didn’t worry much about code integration. Today, you must link or bundle a BSP, device drivers, graphics libraries, and numerous other components. Hello reliable build processes and configuration management.

  • Yesterday, you used traditional embedded skills: setting bits for I/O pins, reading A-to-D converters, sending CAN messages, and so on. Today, you have to bone up on Adobe Flash, socket programming, USB, or XML.

To help development teams identify and negotiate many of these roadblocks, Auto Electronics has posted a new article by QNX's Andy Gryc, titled "Design Challenges for Digital Instrument Clusters".

Check it out, and let me know what you think.


QNX chosen to power GE’s flagship Mark VIe control platform

It controls gas turbines, steam turbines, hydro plants, and nuclear plants, including the largest power and water facility on the planet. It runs in hundreds of installations worldwide — from Cairo to Quebec to Los Angeles — delivering electric power to homes, hospitals, factories, and businesses. It’s called the GE Mark VIe, and GE Energy promotes it as the company's "most advanced control platform."

The heart of the GE Mark VIe is a single-board controller based on the QNX Neutrino RTOS and the Freescale PowerQUICC 8349 processor. Designed for high-uptime operation, the Mark VIe supports:
  • a variety of redundancy options, including dual or triple controllers, dual or triple power sources, and dual or triple networks

  • precision diagnostics to minimize mean-time-to-repair

  • on-line repair to maximize the mean-time-between-forced-outages

Moreover, each QNX-based controller can communicate with up to three network switches. This allows each controller to monitor multiple redundant inputs and use a voting system to determine which input values are correct.

The Mark VIe can handle rugged environments, with a rated temperature range of 0 to 65°C (32 to 149 °F). It doesn’t require cooling fans, even at maximum temperature.

According to GE, the Mark VIe addresses a wide range of applications, from small governors to plant DCS applications. These include heavy-duty gas-turbine retrofits, aeroderivative engine-control retrofits, steam-turbine retrofits, and hydro control.

I can’t begin to do justice to the Mark VIe’s many features. So to learn more about it, click here. To download the data sheet, click here. And to learn about some of the applications that use the Mark VIe, check out these links:


QNX spells out its offering for industrial automation developers

If you develop systems for the industrial automation market, I recommend you check out the new "Industrial" section on the QNX website. It has all the obligatory marketing messages about how QNX provides a complete solution for your design requirements, yadda, yadda, yadda. But for my money, it also provides useful information on the technology QNX has assembled for IA developers.

Some highlights:
  • A diagram illustrating the QNX "industrial software stack". To see the full version, click here, then click the Technology tab. Once you see the diagram, click the "View All" button.

  • A list of protocols, frame grabbers, I/O cards, and other third-party technologies compatible with QNX. Click the Ecosystem tab.

  • A list of relevant certifications, including POSIX, ISO, and SIL 3, that QNX has either achieved or is in the process of achieving. Click the Certifications tab.

Building automotive user interfaces in a Flash

Literally. Recently, a colleague posted a video of the QNX CAR infotainment reference, which sports a user interface implemented entirely in Adobe Flash Lite. (There are also many QNX technologies running under the hood, including an RTOS and a real-time graphics framework, but the parts you see all run in Flash.)

The infotainment reference, which provides automakers with a platform for building their own in-car products, contains a YouTube widget, an MP3 player, and a photo album — things that would be familiar to any iPhone user. For me, the surprising bits include a Pandora music player and the (extremely useful) sound-system controls. I don't know about you, but I've always hated fiddling with the Fade and Balance controls on my car radio. With QNX CAR, you can simply drag your finger to where you want the sound to go.

Enough blather. Let's watch the darn thing:


Pimp my (digital) drive: 2010 Range Rover gets QNX-based instrument cluster

No more mechanical gauges for the Land Rover Range Rover. The new 2010 model sports a QNX-based digital instrument cluster that displays virtual speedometers and gauges, as well as system warnings, suspension settings, steering angle, and a variety of other information, all on a 12" TFT screen:

As I've mentioned in previous posts, digital clusters offer something that traditional analog clusters can't: dynamic reconfigurability. Shift into reverse, and the digital cluster replaces a tachometer with a backup camera. Switch from highway mode to off-road mode, and the cluster displays information to help you negotiate the back road to your Aunt Mabel's cottage.

In the case of the Range Rover, you can even customize the cluster to your personal preferences. So throw out that pinstriping kit, 'cause you can pimp this ride without one. Well, sort of.

Visteon, the company that built the cluster for the 2010 Range Rover, is a long-established QNX customer. In addition to the Range Rover cluster, Visteon has used the QNX Neutrino RTOS in a variety of infotainment, handsfree, and navigation systems.

According to the QNX press release, QNX Software Systems also provided engineering services to help Visteon achieve the short bootup times demanded by Land Rover. A cluster of this sophistication requires an impressive amount of software, so I'm guessing the Range Rover cluster uses a combination of fastboot techniques. The cluster may also use QNX's instant device activation technology, but I'm guessing on that one.

Recently, MTA Group, an auto supplier based out of Italy, also announced that they use QNX for digital instrument clusters.

For previous posts on digital instrument clusters, click here.