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.