Toyota to ship vehicles with QNX-based infotainment system

A few weeks ago, I introduced you to a new, scalable infotainment system from Harman. Based on the QNX CAR application platform, the system employs a modular architecture that allows automakers to offer infotainment features at a range of price points.

It seems Toyota was some impressed with the system's design. Because yesterday, Harman revealed that Toyota will deploy the system in vehicles for the European market, starting in 2011.

According to Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal, this marks the first time a Japanese automaker has equipped its vehicles with an infotainment system made by a non-Japanese company.

What my colleagues are up to...


Virtual instrument cluster or digital instrument cluster: What will it be?

I've blogged several times on the new generation of automotive instrument clusters, which replace mechanical gauges with software-controlled LCD displays. Almost invariably, I refer to these displays as digital instrument clusters. My employer, QNX Software Systems, which makes software for these displays, follows the same practice (see a recent press release for an example).

In every case, the display in question looks something like this:

As opposed to something like this:

Here's my problem: "digital cluster" is so 1980. It reeks of segment displays. It says that flashing digits constitute the prime visual characteristic of the device. Whereas the next-generation, LCD-based clusters I've been discussing are highly pictorial. They display icons, backup-camera video, navigation maps, and all kinds of other information. They can even reconfigure themselves according to road conditions or drive mode.

In fact, as the above example illustrates, these clusters often look like traditional physical displays — an illusion achieved through deft use of Adobe Flash, OpenGL ES, and other graphics technologies. That makes them virtual instrument clusters in my book.

Not everyone likes to call them virtual clusters, mind you. My colleague Andy Gryc, who knows more about these devices than I could ever hope to learn, says that "virtual" makes it sound like the cluster really isn't there. But to me, that's exactly the point. The cluster you see in front of you doesn't have a corporeal existence — it's an image, a trompe-l'œil.

What goes on beneath the display — realtime data collection, etc. — is still very real, of course, but the part you see is an illusion. An attractive illusion that offers many usability benefits over a traditional cluster, but an illusion nonetheless.

So what do you think? Is digital instrument cluster a massive misnomer? Am I just stirring up a tempest in a virtual teapot?

Postscript: For a (humorous) trip down memory lane, click here to check out an online gallery of 80s-era digital clusters.


"QNX, meet Mark Hamill..."

On its own, winning an Adobe MAX award is pretty cool. But here is what makes it even cooler: Members of the QNX team got to rub shoulders — literally — with Mark Hamill. And I have a photo to prove it:

In case you're wondering how Mark got into the picture, it's simple: He was the master of ceremonies for the Adobe MAX awards dinner.

Okay, before I go, two bits of trivia:


Moon bombed; little green men ticked

“They’re going to do WHAT?!,” I bellowed.

So okay, maybe I didn’t exactly bellow. And maybe I didn't even raise my voice all that much. But trust me, I uttered the question with heartfelt incredulity.

It all started when I got home this evening. I was tired, I was hungry, and I was looking forward to a nice warm welcome from my family. That’s not too much to ask, right?

Instead, the first thing I hear when I get in the door is, “Hey dad, did you hear about NASA?”

“Of course,” I say, “The dudes that do the space shuttle, the space station, and all that other space stuff.” (I'm annoying like that.)

“No, no,” my son says, “I’m not asking if you heard of them, I’m asking if you heard what they’re going to do tomorrow.”

“I give up. What are they going to do?”

“They’re going to bomb the moon.”

“They’re going to do WHAT?!” I bellow… oh, hold on, I think we already went over that part.

I must confess, I made most of this up. Except for the bit about bombing the moon. That part is real.

Tomorrow morning, at approximately 4:30 am Pacific time, the Centaur upper stage of an Atlas V rocket will plow into the moon. The impact will create a debris plume that rises above the lunar surface. Four minutes later, a spacecraft that previously separated from the Centaur will fly through the debris plume, collecting and relaying data back to Earth. That spacecraft will then plow into the lunar surface and create a second plume.

So why is NASA spending precious tax dollars to create all this mayhem? Because of water. Or, more precisely, the suspicion that water exists below the moon's surface.

You see, if any water, hydrocarbons, or organics exist in the debris, they will become exposed to sunlight. The sunlight will then vaporize these items and break them down into their basic components. Spectrometers can then determine the amount and distribution of water in the debris plume -- if, indeed, any such water exists.

If you think I'm pulling your leg, check out the LCROSS page on the NASA website. You'll see that I'm telling the truth.

Unless, of course, you're one of those folks that refuse to believe the Apollo moon landings were real.

Um... they were, weren't they?


QNX CAR Takes Home Adobe MAX Award

We won! We won! We freakin' won!!!

Sorry... I just had to get that out of my system. A few minutes ago, the Adobe twitter stream revealed that the QNX CAR application platform has won the Adobe MAX Award (mobile category) for its innovative use of Adobe Flash technology.

I've already blogged a couple of times (see here and here) on why QNX CAR's implementation of Adobe Flash is a game changer not only for car makers and car drivers, but also for the worldwide Flash developer community — so I won't bore you with the details once again.

Instead, allow me to congratulate everyone at QNX who has helped make the QNX CAR application platform such a success. And kudos to Adobe and to the Adobe Flash community for recognizing QNX CAR as the next big platform for distributing Adobe Flash content, applications, and video.

p.s. If the QNX webmaster is reading this, time to update the QNX trophy case.


QNX celebrates 10 years in the auto business

I knew I was forgetting something, but couldn't put my finger on it. Then I remembered: September marked the 10th anniversary of QNX's entry into the automotive business.

In fact, September 14 is something of an official anniversary. On that day in 1999, Motorola unveiled mobileGT, an automotive reference platform based on the QNX Neutrino RTOS. For the first time, QNX publicly threw its hat into the automotive ring.

Being the (somewhat organized) pack rat that I am, it took only a few minutes to dig into my archives and find the announcement. Click to enlarge:

Now here's the thing. The Motorola unit responsible for mobileGT no longer exists. The IBM unit responsible for the Java layer no longer exists. Embedded Planet, if I remember correctly, eventually morphed into another company.

QNX, on the other hand, has not only survived, but managed to thrive in the automotive marketplace. A decade later, it has licensed its software for more than 10 million vehicle systems and built a customer list that starts with Audi and ends with Volkswagen — with precious few blanks in between.

I'm a longtime QNX employee — and a marketing guy to boot — so if I attempt to explain why this is so, you'll hear all the expected platitudes. So I won't even try.

Besides, 10 years of constant growth in the automotive business speaks for itself.

New car infotainment system gears up with QNX middleware

Recently, I blogged on some way cool infotainment systems for Mercedes and BMW vehicles. But if you’re anything like me (read “cheap”), the car you drive is smaller than an S-Class and humbler than a Z4 — and much less expensive than either. In my case, it's an 8-year old Neon.

Now, I have no plans to replace the Neon anytime soon. In fact, I still rather like it. But it would be nice to think that, when I do buy a new car, it will offer some of the same infotainment goodies as a Mercedes, but without the attendant sticker shock.

Enter a new, scalable infotainment platform from Harman International. Based on the QNX Neutrino RTOS, the platform “fulfills a commitment to modularize our infotainment expertise,” says Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal.

Translation: Automakers can mix and match a number of pre-integrated and pre-tested modules to address a range of price points. High-end cars can include all or most of the modules, while Neon-class cars can include a subset.

Using QNX middleware, the system works with a variety of storage devices (iPods, thumb drives, CDs/DVDs, etc.); offers Internet radio and other Cloud-based applications; and provides a dynamic user interface. From what I can tell, the UI offers a mix of 2D/3D Flash and OpenGL ES graphics.

The system signals a new market direction for Harman, which has traditionally positioned itself as a premium brand. It will be interesting to see how it maintains its luxury-car leadership while targeting a much larger cross section of vehicles and end-customers.