Qt framework for QNX: Not just a pretty interface

Before we go any further, let's get the pronunciation thing out of the way. Strictly speaking, Qt is pronounced "cute." But guess what: The minute you start saying things like "That device has 'cute' user interface" is the same minute people start looking at you funny. Hence, the pronunciation of choice has become, not surprisingly, "kyoo tee".

If you're new to Qt, the Qt community portal has a good, albeit prolix definition:

"Qt is a comprehensive C++ application development framework that includes a class library and tools for cross-platform development and internationalization. The intuitive Qt API and tools are consistent across all supported platforms, enabling platform-independent application development and deployment."

The definition on the Qt Development Frameworks website gets to the point a little quicker:

"Qt is a cross-platform application and UI framework. Using Qt, you can write web-enabled applications once and deploy them across desktop, mobile, and embedded operating systems without rewriting the source code."

This "write once, deploy across" feature is a key reason why many QNX customers, particularly those in the medical and industrial automation industries, show interest in Qt. Mind you, it's not the only reason. Qt's rich cross-platform C++ class library, running on the QNX Neutrino RTOS, also allows device makers to:
  • build advanced user interfaces from a rich set of standard and customizable GUI components
  • visualize data in 3D with a tight integration with OpenGL
  • increase designer & developer collaboration with Qt Quick, a complete UI creation kit
  • choose a license to fit project requirements
  • take advantage of the Qt ecosystem
  • leverage the reliability and real-time performance of the QNX Neutrino RTOS

From port to completed port
Qt Software, a Nokia subsidiary, first ported Qt to the QNX Neutrino RTOS in July 2009. QNX Software Systems plans to complete this port and quickly move up to latest release of Qt, v4.7. From what I understand, the new port will initially support ARM and Atom processors on Beagle boards and Kontron boards, respectively. Support for additional platforms will depend on customer interest.

Look ma, no C++
Qt 4.7 introduces a new feature, Qt Quick, that enhances Qt's capabilities and allows anyone familiar with scripting languages to create UIs and apps. With Qt Quick, you don't need to know C++. Instead, you can use QML, a JavaScript-based declarative language, to design your "UI centric" applications.

According to the Qt website, if you have experience with JavaScript, HTML, or CSS, you have the skills to learn QML. Practically speaking, this ease of access means that user-interface designers can work hand-in-hand with software developers to create animated, touch-enabled UIs.

A matter of choice
The QNX Neutrino RTOS already supports a choice of UI technologies, including Adobe Flash, OpenGL ES, and the QNX Photon microGUI. Support for Qt will add to this choice. In future posts, I will track the progress of Qt for the QNX Neutrino RTOS and provide some insight as to how it integrates with existing QNX graphics technologies and frameworks.

Until then, here's a video published to celebrate the initial port to QNX Neutrino back in 2009:


QNX drives digital instrument cluster for Jaguar XJ

You know what I like best about digital instrument clusters? Their dynamic reconfigurability. Shift into drive, for example, and the cluster displays a tachometer. Shift into reverse, and the cluster replaces the tachometer with video output from a backup camera. I mean, how cool is that?

This isn't just science fiction. Some production cars already provide this type of functionality, including the Jaguar XJ and Land Rover Range Rover. Here, for example, are some photos from a Jaguar XJ, which made an appearance at the recent QNX Automotive Summit in Stuttgart. The cluster, as you may have already guessed, runs on the QNX Neutrino RTOS:

Recently, QNX Software Systems equipped a Corvette with a digital cluster to show off some of its latest software technologies. To see photos of the cluster in action, click here.

POSTSCRIPT: Originally, this post referred to the vehicle in question as a Jaguar XJ5. Fortunately, an astute (and Jaguar-savvy) reader pointed out that the last XJ5 probably shipped in the early 1980s. Consequently, I've edited the text to reflect the correct name: XJ.


I passed the buck...

... or did the buck pass me? It's all a matter of perspective, I guess. In any case, this buck and I passed by each other in the woods yesterday, and I managed to squeeze off a few frames before he moved on. Here's one of them:

Click to magnify.

Photo tip: With their impressive antlers, white-tailed bucks evoke regality. To keep them looking regal, I often change my perspective by getting on my knees and shooting them from below their eye level. This gives the effect of looking up at them, much as you would a king on a throne.

Disney artists used much the same technique when drawing images of Bambi's father. For example:

Because in art, as in life, perspective is everything. :-)


Neptec wins contract to develop new lunar rover

This just in: The Canadian Space Agency has selected Neptec, a longtime QNX customer and NASA contractor, to develop the new Lunar Exploration Light Rover, or LELR.

According to Mike Kearns, Neptec's vice president of space exploration, "the innovative design of this new Canadian rover will facilitate surface transportation for payloads, cargo, and crew during moon exploration. It will also enable drilling and excavation, manipulator and tool integration, and vision and state-of-the-art communications systems."

Neptec is a familiar name in the QNX community. The company built two QNX-based solutions for the Space Shuttle and International Space Station: the Laser Camera System and the Advanced Space Vision System.

For photos and more details on the lunar rover story, check out the Ottawa Citizen article.


Engadget: BlackBerry PlayBook hands-on demo

Yesterday, RIM's Jim Balsillie treated members of the Engadget team to a hallway demonstration of the BlackBerry PlayBook. The team's cameras were rolling at the time, and in the video, someone exclaims "Oh, man... oh, that's just beautiful" in response to the PlayBook's multitasking.

Well, I'm pretty sure that's what they said. You can judge for yourself; just click here to view the Engadget video.

RealVNC showcases smartphone connectivity at QNX automotive summit

Yesterday, RealVNC announced that they will demonstrate their VNC Mobile Solution at the QNX Automotive Summit.

If you're unfamiliar with VNC technology, it allows the infotainment system in a car to display applications running on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. It also allows car occupants to interact with these applications using steering wheel buttons or the infotainment system's touchscreen.

For years, VNC has allowed enterprise users to access remote computers and perform remote troubleshooting. More recently, it has found its way into smartphones, where a terminal client on the phone lets the user see and control applications running on a remote server. In a car, the roles reverse: the smartphone becomes the server and the vehicle infotainment system becomes the client.

Here's a diagram that summarizes how this works:

I'm only scratching the surface here. For a more thorough explanation of this and other approaches to car-to-smartphone connectivity, check out the article, "Mobile device connectivity keeps the car relevant," recently published in Automotive DesignLine.

VNC supports both terminal mode and Apple iPod Out. Here, for example, is a video showing how VNC, terminal mode, and the QNX Neutrino operating system work in combination to integrate cars and smartphones:



Shootout: BlackBerry PlayBook versus Apple iPad

Hey, check out this video of the PlayBook and iPad going head-to-head on browser speed, Flash support, and HTML5 performance:

For previous posts on the BlackBerry Playbook, click here.

MTA chooses QNX for next-gen digital instrument clusters

This just in: MTA, a tier one auto supplier to customers such as Ferrari, Fiat, GM, Lamborghini, Lotus, Maserati, Saab, Tata, and Volkswagen, has chosen the QNX Neutrino RTOS as the software platform for its next-generation in-car infotainment systems, including digital instrument clusters.

According to a press release issued this morning, the first production models are scheduled for deployment in early 2011.

MTA is also a sponsor for the QNX automotive summit, which is taking place this week in Stuttgart.


QNX at SAE Convergence: The media's take

If you follow this blog, you'll know that QNX Software Systems recently unveiled its latest connected car, a digitally pimped-out Corvette. The car, which made its debut at SAE Convergence, comes with a dynamically reconfigurable instrument cluster and a multimedia head unit that integrates with smartphones and other mobile devices.

The car stoked the interest of a number of journalists who attended the SAE Convergence event. Here's what some of them had to say:

CNET cartech blogQNX upgrades infotainment using iPod Out, Terminal Mode

SAE Automotive EngineeringQNX solves timing mismatch for auto infotainment

Edmunds.comHands-On with Terminal Mode at SAE Convergence 2010

Automotive DesignLineQNX highlights automotive connectivity options at SAE Convergence

EE TimesElectronically 'stoking' a Corvette

AmericanJR.com (video)Hands-on Interview with Andrew Poliak

WWJ-AMConvergence Talks Future Of High-Tech Autos

AutomobilwocheQNX zeigt Vision vom voll vernetzten Fahrzeug

WardsAuto.comQNX Technology Steps Up Vehicle Connectivity



Using an IEC 61508 SIL3-certified RTOS for safety-critical systems

An operating system (OS) kernel designed for safety-critical systems can't simply be reliable or elegantly designed. For instance, it must also:
  • protect applications from harming one another or the kernel itself

  • guarantee CPU time for higher-integrity code in systems that combine applications of different safety integrity levels

  • allow the developer to predict when processes will be scheduled for execution

  • prevent applications from acccessing or corrupting internal kernel information
The requirements become especially severe for an OS kernel certified at IEC 61508 Safety Integrity Level 3, or SIL3. In fact, a system certified at SIL3 must have a probability of dangerous failure below 1 in 10 million per hour of operation.

Achieving such a low risk of failure is non-trivial, to say the least. In fact, it's well-nigh impossible to satisfy the above requirements unless they are baked into the very design of the kernel.

Recently, Chris Hobbs of QNX wrote an article on the characteristics of SIL3-certified kernel. The article, published last week in Industrial Embedded Systems magazine, also touches on some development techniques for creating safety-related applications. To read the article, click here.

Support Package
If you are attempting to navigate the complexities of the IEC 61508 certification process, you might also want to check out QNX's IEC 61508 Certification Support Package.



Adobe MAX: Developing AIR apps for the BlackBerry Tablet OS

Interested in developing for the BlackBerry PlayBook? Then check out the presentation that Julian Dolce delivered last month Adobe MAX.

The presentation, titled "Developing AIR apps for the BlackBerry Tablet OS," covers all the bases, from touch gestures and camera capabilities to UI components, alert dialogs, and Webkit support. Better yet, Adobe has posted the presentation with a hotlinked index, allowing you to jump to any topic.

To view (and listen to) the presentation, click here.

BTW, Julian is a senior flash developer at QNX. Previously, he worked as director of creative technologies at Fuel Industries, a company that specializes in online branded entertainment. His twitter handle is http://twitter.com/juliandolce


Spain's national radio broadcaster chooses QNX-based audio routers

This just in: NTP Technology, a supplier of digital routing solutions to the radio and television industry, has sold 15 of its QNX-based audio routers to the Spanish national broadcaster Radio Nacional de Espana (RNE).

The purchase follows the recent installation of an NTP audio routing system at RNE’s Madrid headquarters. RNE will deploy the new systems in a number of regional studios.

Okay, I know what you’re asking yourself: “What the heck is an audio router?”

Well, believe me, I’m no expert. But from what I understand, it provides the audio infrastructure for a radio station, connecting sound studios via a digital network. The router must connect multiple feeds and signals from various sources with great precision and reliability — when you’re broadcasting to an audience of millions, "dead air" isn't an option.

It’s no surprise, then, that NTP’s digital audio routers are designed for nonstop, 24/7 operation. For instance, the NTP 625 router, which serves as the core of the company's routing systems, can house up to 18 plug-in modules configured as 5 RU hot-swappable cards. Each chassis can scale up to 2048 x 2048 crosspoints and can accommodate a redundant power supply and a redundant frame controller.

The NTP 625 router also takes advantage of the QNX Neutrino operating system, which, according to the NTP website, "has very high reliability and is specially designed for critical industrial applications."

A large number of national broadcasters rely on NTP’s audio routing solutions, including China Radio International, which I’ve profiled in a previous post.

For more information on this story, read the press release.



My connected car word cloud is getting around

Last December, I generated a word cloud to celebrate the unveiling of the LTE Connected Car, a joint venture of Alcatel-Lucent, QNX Software Systems, Atlantic Records, Toyota Motor Sales, and ng Connect. Here's what the cloud looked like:

Click to magnify.

I did this just for fun, but thought the result was pretty cool — and it seems that someone at BMW agrees.

I discovered the BMW connection yesterday, when my colleague Andy Gryc showed me a photo he took at a recent automotive conference in Germany. I don't want to spoil the story, so check out Andy's latest blog post, which provides the full skinny.



Railway communications stay on track with QNX

Yesterday, a colleague was discussing how companies in the railway industry have shown interest in the QNX Neutrino RTOS Safe Kernel. Safety is a huge priority for that industry, so companies that make systems for controlling locomotives and train yards see immense value in an operating system kernel certified to IEC 61508 Safety Integrity Level 3, or SIL3. (Super-quick tutorial: IEC 61508 is a functional safety standard that addresses the complete life cycle for safety-critical applications.) The conversation got me to thinking about a QNX-based system with a rather goblinesque name: ORC.

You've heard of applications where failure isn't an option. ORC is one of them. More specifically, it's a radio-over-IP (RoIP) system, deployed in New Zealand, that transmits all voice communications between rail vehicles and the national train control center. It also handles any emergency calls that a train may transmit if a derailment occurs.

As you can imagine, ORC has to run 24/7, with no excuses. To achieve that goal, it takes advantage of QNX Neutrino's dynamic upgradability and software fault tolerance.

Last year, QNX published a case study on ORC. The article was written by Robert Cameron, who works for a QNX distributor called Symmetry Innovations. You can find the article on the QNX website; I've also included here in its entirety:

Xworks Selects QNX for Mission-Critical Railway Communications System
Radio over IP system helps New Zealand Railways perform major upgrade of nationwide radio network.

ONTRACK, the government organization responsible for New Zealand’s rail network, operates a nationwide radio system to facilitate the safe movement of trains and track workers. The system, which comprises 148 hilltop and tunnel VHF repeaters, interlinked by a narrowband UHF network to a central control center, has had no major upgrades since it was installed in the early 1980s.

In a bold move to improve the system’s reliability, flexibility, and support for mobile data, ONTRACK has embarked upon a major upgrade, replacing the UHF-linking infrastructure with an Internet Protocol (IP) network. This project requires installation of radio over IP (RoIP) conversion equipment at each repeater site. VHF analogue radio will continue to provide voice and data communication from the hilltop to the train due to its excellent coverage properties.

ONTRACK considered several RoIP solutions before commissioning Xworks to develop a custom system based on the QNX Neutrino RTOS. The system, a four-channel RoIP device called the ORC, serves as a bridge between conventional VHF/UHF radio networks and an IP network. The ORC performs many functions, including:
  • bandwidth-efficient G.729A audio compression

  • integrated Selcall and CTCSS (CCIR) encode/decode

  • serial control and diagnostics of Spectra Engineering MX800 base station radios

  • integrated gigabit Ethernet switch

  • extensive front-panel diagnostic capabilities

  • remote management via SNMP and web browser

  • local I/O for site monitoring and control

  • support for data-only radios

The result is a fully integrated, low-bandwidth, vendor-neutral RoIP solution that operators can manage and control remotely from New Zealand’s National Train Control Centre.

A single ORC RoIP unit can access up to four remote radio networks via local or wide area networks, including the Internet.

24/7 reliability
The ORC has to operate flawlessly 24/7, for two key reasons:

  • It forms an integral component of the hilltop repeaters, which transmit all voice communications between rail vehicles and the train control center.

  • It must decode any CCIR tone sequences, including emergency calls, that a train may transmit if a derailment or other critical event occurs.

To achieve the required level of high availability, Xworks selected the QNX Neutrino RTOS because of its inherent fault tolerance and dynamic upgradeability.

Vehicle visibility on the nationwide rail corridor is paramount. Thus, the system uses special extended Selcall packets in areas of poor GPRS coverage to guarantee 100% visibility. The ORC intercepts these position reports, decodes and verifies them, then sends them back to the Train Control Centre over the IP network.

Because many repeater sites are located in remote areas with helicopter access only, the ORC includes several remote control and diagnostic facilities; it can even be cold-started remotely. The network connectivity features offered by the QNX TCP/IP stack enable operators to perform diagnostic functions remotely via Telnet or the integrated QNX Web server. Field upgrades can be performed via FTP, and extensive non-volatile logs are kept in battery-backed static RAM. The ORC also supports DHCP, which was a key requirement, and an industry-compliant MIB, which allows access to almost all ORC functions.

Time constraints
The Xworks team had to complete this complex project within 18 months. To deliver on time, the team leveraged its previous experience with the QNX Neutrino RTOS and the QNX Momentics Tool Suite.

To complete the project, the team used many QNX software components, including the high availability manager, TCP/IP stack, DHCP client, Telnet server, FTP server, Web server (Slinger), data server, flash memory driver, RAM memory driver, 16550 serial driver (13 serial ports), and AC97 audio driver.

Code reuse was a key consideration. Thanks to the message passing architecture and resource manager framework of the QNX Neutrino RTOS, the development team was able to reuse many proven device drivers previously developed for processor-specific hardware and peripherals. No code modifications to the drivers were required.

To further reduce development time, Xworks licensed signal-processing algorithms, such as the G.729 audio codec, from Vocal Technologies of Buffalo NY, USA.

To help ensure high uptimes and fault tolerance, the Xworks ORC uses the QNX high availability manager.

Nationwide deployment
Xworks has supplied 100 ORC units to ONTRACK for deployment throughout New Zealand. After rigorous on-site testing, ONTRACK’s chief radio engineer Trevor Pollock is delighted with the outcome and says “The ORC is loaded with every conceivable feature for operating a mobile radio system over an IP network. The voice quality is amazing and it’s a real miser on IP bandwidth.”

Future directions
The ORC can work in any industry that uses conventional (analog) mobile radio equipment. Potential applications include:

  • Internet access to conventional voice radio networks

  • Bridging of disparate radio networks (police, fire, etc.)

  • Leased line and UHF link replacement

  • Control and monitoring of repeater sites

  • Interoperability between radio and telephone networks

Xworks also uses the QNX Neutrino RTOS in many other products, including the KMC mobile communications controller and GPS tracking device. This device is deployed in commuter trains and maintenance vehicles operating on the New Zealand rail network.

The Xworks team that developed the ORC hardware and software consisted of Aaron Croad, Kevin Buckle, and Kelvin McVinnie.



Video: QNX CEO talks BlackBerry PlayBook OS at DEVCON 2010

Here's a clip of QNX CEO Dan Dodge speaking at BlackBerry® DEVCON on the new QNX-based BlackBerry PlayBook OS.

Dan provides a quick intro to the QNX architecture, including its reliability and realtime performance, and discusses how it powers everything from cars to wind turbines to Internet routers. But most of all, he focuses on what QNX technology brings the BlackBerry PlayBook OS, including bred-in-the-bone multicore support and tight integration with Adobe AIR.

Enough blather. Let's watch the video:

Yesterday, RIM launched the BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK for Adobe AIR, as well as a new BlackBerry PlayBook simulator. For details, click here.


RIM releases BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK for Adobe AIR

This just in: Research In Motion (RIM) has launched the new BlackBerry® Tablet OS SDK for Adobe® AIR® and the new BlackBerry PlayBook simulator. According to the press release:

  • The SDK integrates new extensions for Adobe AIR that have been highly optimized for the BlackBerry Tablet OS
  • Developers can immediately begin building applications for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet
  • Early feedback from developers highlights ease of development and high performance
For details or to download the SDK, click here.


Adobe MAX: Developing AIR apps for the BlackBerry Tablet OS

If you're attending Adobe MAX this week, be sure to catch Julian Dolce's session on developing Adobe AIR apps for the BlackBerry® Tablet OS.

Julian's a dynamite speaker (catch of glimpse his style here), so I promise you'll stay awake for the entire session. He's going to demonstrate key features of the BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK, as well as how to publish apps for it.

Julian will deliver his presentation twice: Monday, Oct 25, at 2 pm, and Wednesday, October 27 at 3:30 pm.

To register for Julian’s Session, click here.

Julian's Twitter handle: http://twitter.com/juliandolce

NEWS FLASH: Earlier this morning, RIM announced that the new BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK and BlackBerry PlayBook simulator are now available for download. Click here for the full skinny.



I'm on the ARM home page!

It's not every day that the world's largest processor IP company (15 billion chips and counting) publishes a blog post authored by yours truly. In fact, this is the very first time.

The blog post in question provides a quick tour of the QNX concept car that will be showcased in the upcoming ARM Techcon conference in San Clara. The ARM connection? The car contains two systems, a digital instrument cluster and multimedia head unit, based on ARM-powered Freescale i.MX51 processors.

To read the post, click here. BTW, here is where I appear on the ARM home page:

Video: Guided tour of QNX concept car at SAE Convergence

Recently, I introduced you to the digital instrument cluster and multimedia head unit in the new QNX concept car, a digitally pimped-out Corvette, which made its debut this week at SAE Convergence.

Well, grab some popcorn and dim the lights, because here is a video of my colleague Andrew Poliak giving a guided tour of these two systems. The video, taken by Jason Rzucidlo of AmericaJR.com, was taped on the Convergence show floor:



Videos: QNX Support for Terminal Mode and Apple iPod Out

Earlier today, I mentioned that the head unit in QNX Software Systems' new concept car can seamlessly access a host of smartphone applications — everything from apps that find your friends to services that track down the closest available parking spot. To enable this access, QNX supports several technologies, including Terminal Mode and Apple iPod Out.

Good news: QNX has posted videos that demonstrate how these two technologies work. So grab some popcorn, dim the lights, and discover how your car and your smartphone are about to become a lot more intimate:

Note that both these videos were shot in a Toyota Prius, which has served as the demonstration vehicle for the QNX CAR Application Platform since late 2009. This week, QNX is showcasing these same capabilities in its latest demonstration vehicle, a Chevrolet Corvette.

You can also view these videos on the QNX website: Terminal Mode, Apple iPod Out


Report from Convergence: Clusters, Connectivity, and Quotable Quotes

My colleague Nancy Young is doing double-duty as a field correspondent, attending events at SAE Convergence and reporting on them in her blog, Forever Young.

She's already posted several entries, so I invite you to take a gander:

  • What are little digital instrument clusters made of?

  • Freescale SABRE rattling at Convergence

  • Convergence 2010 booth visitors speak out about their connectivity priorities

  • Connected Car 2.0 at Convergence 2010: Why the Corvette?

  • How is Gen Y changing the automotive landscape?

  • What will the auto industry look like in 2012?



    Smart phone, equally smart head unit

    Yesterday, I introduced you to the digital instrument cluster in the new QNX concept car, a specially modified Chevrolet Corvette. Today, let’s look at the car's multimedia head unit, picture here:

    Among other things, the unit demonstrates how car infotainment systems can access a host of applications on smart phones and other mobile devices, such as maps for finding restaurants and geosocial apps for locating friends. In fact, the head unit supports two modes of mobile-device interaction:

  • Terminal Mode — Replicates the smart phone screen on the head unit and allows steering wheel buttons, touchscreens, and other in-car user inputs to control the smart phone. Also enables the head unit to access new mobile phone applications as they become available.

  • Apple iPod Out — Enables the head unit to display content from an iPhone or iPod touch, including music menus and album art, and to support new iPod features without software changes. Also allows users to view an interface they are familiar with.

  • These descriptions only scratch the surface of how these technologies work. For instance, the specification for Terminal Mode, which is still in development, includes provisions to reduce driver distraction, such as mechanisms that lock out unsafe apps while the car is in motion. (QNX has produced a couple of videos on these two technologies; I will provide links later this week.)

    The head unit isn’t a one-trick pony. It also offers:
    • a reskinnable user interface (HMI) based on Adobe Flash

    • Pandora streaming audio, Webkit browsing, and Google Maps with local search

    • iAnywhere Bluetooth and hands-free calling

    • A virtual mechanic that gets OBD-II trouble codes from the vehicle CAN bus and displays them in an interactive graphic
    The virtual mechanic is especially cool. As I've mentioned elsewhere, it doesn't fix your car for you, but it can tell you when things are going south and help you take appropriate action, before the problem escalates. In fact, it can even help you find the nearest gas station or dealership.

    Like the digital instrument cluster, the head unit for the concept Corvette was built with the QNX CAR application platform, which you can learn more about here.


    Goodbye analog, hello digital: A new instrument cluster for the QNX concept car

    This week, at SAE Convergence, QNX is showcasing its brand new concept car, a digitally pimped-out Chevrolet Corvette. The car is equipped with a head unit that talks to smart phones (more on that in a subsequent post) and a digital instrument cluster that can reconfigure itself on the fly.

    This dynamic reconfigurability is a dramatic departure from traditional analog clusters, so let’s start with that. For example, here is the cluster in “straight up” mode, showing both the speedometer and the tachometer:

    Click to magnify.

    Now here is the same display, but with a speedometer and a navigation app:

    And here it is again, with a speedometer and a weather widget:

    It’s easy to see how this dynamic configurability could simplify driving in the real world: Put the car in drive, for example, and you see a navigation display; put it in reverse, and you see a backup camera. Very cool.

    Road proven
    Speaking of the real world, I know of at least two companies using QNX-based digital clusters in actual vehicles. The first is Land Rover, which uses a QNX-based cluster in its 2010 Range Rover. The other is the MTA Group, an international auto supplier that builds technology for some exceedingly cool supercars.

    According to an article published in the MTA Journal, MTA chose the QNX Neutrino RTOS for their digital clusters because of “its extremely fast startup times, high-speed functionalities and support for graphics display controllers…”

    Reference implementation
    To build the cluster showcased in the Corvette, the engineers at QNX took advantage of QNX CAR Application Platform, which includes, among other things, a reference implementation for building digital clusters. To find out more about QNX CAR, click here.

    Technical deep dive
    BTW, if your job is create a digital instrument cluster, check out the technical article discussed in this blog post.

    It's a connected Corvette!

    Last week, I teased you with glimpses of the new QNX concept car, which is set to make its debut at the SAE Convergence auto show. Well, no more teasing. Here is the car — a digitally pimped-out Corvette — in all its decaled glory:

    Click to magnify.

    Stay tuned: Over the next couple of days, I will invite you inside and reveal some of the goodies embedded in the Corvette’s dash. These include a digital instrument cluster that can dynamically reconfigure itself and a head unit that can talk to smart-phone apps.

    BTW, the Corvette will also make an appearance at ARM TechCon, which will be held November 9-11 in Santa Clara. (Hm, I guess that means that the cluster or head unit is using an ARM-based processor...)

    To keep up to date on the car and the many QNX demos at the Convergence conference, subscribe to the QNX Twitter stream, twitter.com/QNX_News.



    A (slightly) closer glimpse of the new QNX connected car

    A few days ago, I provided a tiny glimpse of the new connected car that QNX plans to unveil at SAE Convergence 2010.

    I still can't reveal the vehicle model — sorry about that. But at the risk of teasing you too much, here is a slightly larger photo, taken yesterday, that shows the decal design on the passenger-side door:

    The vehicle includes a multimedia head unit equipped with some interesting mobile connectivity features — more on these next week. It also has a digital instrument cluster that can reconfigure itself on the fly as the vehicle shifts from one drive mode to another. The cluster displays multiple virtual instruments and information modes, including this trompe l'oeil tachometer:

    The SAE Convergence conference starts this coming Tuesday, so it won't be long before I can give you the full skinny.



    Is QNX about to unveil a new connected car?

    I can't say much yet, but it looks like QNX Software Systems will be demonstrating a new connected car at the upcoming SAE Convergence auto show.

    For almost a year, a Toyota Prius has served as the demonstration vehicle (pun intended) for the QNX CAR Application Platform. It was a great choice for showcasing the connected capabilities of QNX CAR, and still is.

    But here's the thing: New capabilities are being added to the QNX CAR Application Platform all the time. And using the exact same car to demonstrate these new capabilities just doesn't work, marketing wise. In any case, it's important to show that QNX CAR can bring cloud and mobile connectivity to all kinds of vehicles.

    The question is, what kind of vehicle would best serve the goals of demonstrating next-generation automotive connectivity? Whatever it is, it has to be cool and quickly recognizable. It also has to simplify the task of demonstrating connectivity features to a crowd of onlookers. That narrows the choices considerably.

    Stay tuned, as I will be able to reveal all in a couple of days. In the meantime, check out the survey at the top of this page and vote for the kind of vehicle *you* would choose.


    New personal project: Creating wallpapers for my BlackBerry Playbook

    Call me crazy, but I'm already creating personal wallpapers for the BlackBerry® PlayBook®, even though I can't actually buy one yet. (The tablet will debut in US stores in early 2011.)  I'm sure the PlayBook will ship with gorgeous wallpapers out of the box, if the wallpapers on my BlackBerry Bold 9700 are anything to go by. But hey, I'm a photographer and I can't help but customize my desktops and mobile devices with my own creations.

    For instance, here is a photo of the BlackBerry Playbook:

    And here is a photo I took of a Monarch in my front yard:

    Now, imagine them together:

    Of course, I'd have to determine whether this image would blend nicely with the widgets on the screen. But in any case, I'm pumped!

    According to RIM, the tablet will arrive in US stores in early 2011, with rollouts in other markets beginning in calendar Q2. Until then, the tablet's 1024 x 600 aspect ratio will be my photographic mantra.


    New BlackBerry Tablet OS powered by QNX Neutrino microkernel

    News Flash: This afternoon, at BlackBerry Devcon, RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis unveiled the new BlackBerry® PlayBook, a multi-tasking, video-conferencing, enterprise-ready, and just plain cool tablet device. If you don't believe the cool part, check out the tech specs:

    • 7” LCD, 1024 x 600, WSVGA, capacitive touch screen with full multi-touch and gesture support
    • BlackBerry Tablet OS with support for symmetric multiprocessing
    • 1 GHz dual-core processor
    • 1 GB RAM
    • Dual HD cameras (3 MP front facing, 5 MP rear facing), supports 1080p HD video recording
    • Video playback: 1080p HD Video, H.264, MPEG, DivX, WMV
    • Audio playback: MP3, AAC, WMA
    • HDMI video output
    • Wi-Fi - 802.11 a/b/g/n
    • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
    • Connectors: microHDMI, microUSB, charging contacts
    • Open, flexible application platform with support for WebKit/HTML-5, Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR, Adobe Reader, POSIX, OpenGL, Java
    • Ultra thin and portable:
    o Measures 5.1”x7.6”x0.4” (130mm x 193mm x 10mm)
    o Weighs less than a pound (approximately 0.9 lb or 400g)

    And if that doesn't paint a good enough picture, try the video:

    In his keynote, Mr. Lazaridis invited QNX CEO Dan Dodge to the stage and introduced him as the inventor of the BlackBerry Tablet OS, the new operating system for the BlackBerry Playbook. The new OS is based on the QNX Neutrino microkernel OS, which, if you are new to this blog, powers everything from BMWs to nuclear reactors to the space shuttle.

    I don't usually quote from press releases, but here's what the RIM release says about QNX Neutrino:

    The BlackBerry Tablet OS is built upon the QNX® Neutrino® microkernel architecture, one of the most reliable, secure and robust operating system architectures in the world. Neutrino has been field hardened for years and is being used to support mission-critical applications in everything from planes, trains and automobiles to medical equipment and the largest core routers that run the Internet. The new BlackBerry Tablet OS leverages and builds upon the many proven strengths of this QNX Neutrino architecture to support a professional grade tablet experience and to redefine the possibilities for mobile computing.

    An OS Built for Developers
    The Neutrino based microkernel architecture in the BlackBerry Tablet OS delivers exceptional performance, high scalability, Common Criteria EAL 4+ security, and support for industry standard tools that are already familiar to hundreds of thousands of developers. The OS is fully POSIX compliant enabling easy portability of C-based code, supports Open GL for 2D and 3D graphics intensive applications like gaming, and will run applications built in Adobe Mobile AIR as well as the new BlackBerry® WebWorks™ app platform announced today (which will allow apps to be written to run on BlackBerry PlayBook tablets as well as BlackBerry smartphones with BlackBerry® 6). The BlackBerry Tablet OS will also support Java enabling developers to easily bring their existing BlackBerry 6 Java applications to the BlackBerry Tablet OS environment.

    For additional info on the new device, check out the BlackBerry PlayBook home page.


    30 years of QNX: A tale of two users

    Back in June, I posted a story about a QNX-based system that ran 15 years nonstop until... oh, hold on, I don't want to spoil the ending for you. If you'd like to read the whole story, click here.

    In response to the story, two readers, Armin and Mitchell, shared their own stories of QNX reliability:

    Armin: "We have QNX 4.25 installations running ~20 years at a ground station of the ESA (European Space Agency). It is an industrial embedded system based on PC/104 hardware and PROFIBUS."

    Mitchell: "... But I still personally run an even older QNX 2 system on a daily basis. If you ever call my home or office and end up leaving a voice message, it's being saved on a 40Mhz 386 system that's been running trouble free for over 20 years..."

    These quotes remind me of two other users, Joe and Dave, who were the subject of a QNX ad campaign in 1998 or 1999. Here's the ad, which ran as a two-page spread:

    Joe, as you no doubt have guessed, didn't use QNX. Dave, in his wisdom, did.

    The text in these images is a bit fuzzy, so let me type it out for you:

    "Four years ago, Dave Cawlfield at Olin Chemicals replaced expensive PLCs with OMNX Open Control Software and the QNX Realtime OS. "Since then," says Dave, "we've upgraded the control system regularly with new hardware and software — including parts of the OS itself. But not once have we had to reboot."

    Below Dave's quote is the following ad copy:

    Most operating systems work fine — until they hit a minor software glitch. Or until you perform a simple maintenance task, like changing an input device. Then, like it or not, the OS goes down — and your application with it.

    With QNX, on the other hand, your system can recover from software faults, even in drivers and other critical programs. What's more, you can hotswap peripherals. Start and stop file systems and network services. Change I/O drivers. Add or remove network nodes. Even access the OS after a hard disk failure. All without a reboot.

    And here's the kicker: QNX scales seamlessly from handheld consumer appliances to continent-spanning telephony networks. So you can use one OS to keep all your solutions running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — nonstop.

    In case you're wondering why the ad focuses on PCs, it's because QNX was an x86-only operating system back in those days. That all changed in the late 1990s, when QNX released the QNX Neutrino RTOS, which is designed to support multiple processor architectures, including ARM, MIPS, Power, SH-4, and, of course, x86. From that point on, QNX technology was able to run on all the major hardware architectures used by mobile and embedded systems.


    Smart car + smart phone: Just how will this marriage work?

    The smart car and the smart phone were destined for each other. The romance began years ago with the introduction of handsfree kits. It grew when smart phones became a prime source of music played through in-car infotainment systems. And now, the relationship is becoming even more intimate, as smartphones become a source of applications and services for the car.

    It's true that cars are shipping with more and more applications built in, many of which focus on safety, security, or navigation. But automakers have an opportunity to complement these applications with the many innovative applications and services offered on smart phones and other mobile devices. Many of these mobile apps can enhance the driving experience; some are even designed for in-vehicle use. They include maps with local search capabilities that can find local restaurants, and services that can track down the nearest available parking spot.

    Automakers get this. As a result, they're looking for new ways to leverage the mobile service infrastructure — the OnStar Mobile App and BMW ConnectedDrive being prime examples. Still, to achieve this goal, automakers must not only enhance connectivity between the smart phone and the car's infotainment system, but also implement techniques that minimize driver distraction.

    Currrently, automakers have several options to choose from. These include:

    Remote terminal — The application runs on the phone and a remote terminal client in the car replicates the phone's HMI. For example:

    Remote skins — The application runs on the phone and a remote skin in the car controls the phone application. For example:

    Tethering — The application resides in the car and the phone acts as a modem, providing a connection to the cloud. Cloud-based applications can provide a user interface, or HMI, through technologies such as Flash and HTML 5.

    Each approach has its benefits — and drawbacks. For instance, the remote terminal approach automatically provides access to new phone applications as they become available. But to maintain driver safety, the car infotainment system and the smart phone must work in conjunction to block applications that don’t present an appropriate "car mode" interface while the vehicle is moving.

    The remote skin, on the other hand, allows the driver to use the infotainment system’s screen and input controls, which are larger and better designed for in-vehicle interaction than those of a phone. However, to keep pace with the rapid evolution in mobile services, the remote skin software in the infotainment system needs to support dynamic upgrades.

    As for tethering, many phones already support it. Moreover, the back-end can change without affecting the car, which keeps the car fresh. That said, it's often unclear whether this approach conforms to the tethering agreement with your cellular carrier.

    Put simply, no one approach is a panacea. For that reason, QNX takes the agnostic route and supports all of them.

    Next month, at SAE Convergence 2010, QNX will demonstrate these various approaches. And just wait 'til you see the car that QNX has chosen as the demo platform — but more on that in a subsequent post...


    Webinar: Bringing telepresence to everyday telephony terminals

    Imagine talking to someone on the phone and feeling as if they are in the same room as you — even though they are, in fact, in another city. That, to me, is an example of telepresence.

    I must admit, I'm just starting to learn about telepresence. According to Wikipedia, it refers to technologies that "allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance that they were present, or to have an effect... at a place other than their true location."

    Later this month, Scott Pennock of QNX Software Systems will deliver a webinar on bringing telepresence to everyday telephony terminals — such as the phone sitting on your desk.

    According to Scott, emerging technologies such as spatial sound capture and stereo speech codecs improve talker identification, speech comprehension, and other characteristics, allowing people to feel as if they are present at each other's location.

    So far, this level of user experience has been restricted to high-end solutions that allow physically separated conference rooms to feel like a single room — Cisco TelePresence being an example. But now, manufacturers are starting to build "everyday" telephony terminals that can support telepresence. Moreover, the ability to transport the required signals between terminals is improving.

    In his webinar, Scott will review use cases and explore design requirements, standardization activities, industry trends, and more.

    To register for the webinar, click here.

    The webinar occurs Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm EDT.


    Critter of the week: Underwing moth

    You know what I like about being on vacation? I slow down enough to see things that would otherwise escape my notice. Take, for example, this underwing moth, which I happened upon while vacationing at a friend's summer cottage:

    Click to magnify

    As you can see, underwing moths are endowed with amazing camouflage patterns. But you know what's really cool? They also possess the ability to select tree bark that maximizes the effectiveness of these patterns — as this photo attests.

    Underwings are most active at night, when their mortal enemies, bats, are also active. Obviously, a talent for camouflage does little good when your enemy hunts by echo location. Thus, underwings have developed a second defense mechanism: A set of organs called tympana that allow a moth to "hear" a bat's ultrasonic cries. Upon hearing these cries, the moth will take evasive action, such as immediately falling to the ground.

    If you're wondering how underwings got their name, it comes from a pair of brightly colored wings that become visible when the moths take flight. The underwing genus, Catocala, is large, comprising over 200 species.

    Synchronicity department
    A couple of days after I took this photo, my son took some surprisingly similar photos — not of moths, but of paintball markers. The photos are a testament to the effectiveness of the "A-TACS" camouflage pattern. Here's an example; to see more, click here.