The takeover by wireless handheld company RIM had a positive effect on the software company, explained QNX Director of Automotive Business, Andrew Poliak: Since QNX' previous owner Harman was active in the consumer and automotive infotainment electronics business, some tier ones providing infotainment solutions regarded QNX to some extend as a competitor. This now has changed; the climate between the tier ones and QNX has improved, noted Poliak.
At the Stuttgart event, the company detailed their ideas of how a “connected car” can look like. In the connected car, smartphones will take center stage – not only as a means to provide wireless connectivity but also as a platform for applications: While the application will reside on the consumer device, the automotive platform provides the HMI – display, controls and audio interfaces. Inside the car, a device running a browser or a lightweight web app could play the role of an internet terminal, displaying every kind of content from street maps to videos. For this reason, support for HTML 5 and Flash are essential elements in QNX' scenario.
Some elements of the application logic can even reside in the “Cloud”, the IT catchword for computing services provided through standardized interfaces and residing at any location in the cyberspace. Sounds futuristic? In the Audi A8 it is already reality. The car, at display at the QNX event, contains a navigation system that intelligently blends map information stored at the vehicle's fixed disk and images downloaded from Google earth. (See image 1)
Image 1: Google Earth image from the cloud, street data from the internal disk: The Audi A8 navigation system blends image and navigation data.
According to QNX' engineers, there will be a variety of possible different software partitions between car and remote computing platform (typically a smartphone). Embedded applications will be based entirely on internal computing resources. With approaches such as 'Tethering', 'Remote Skin' or 'Remote Terminal' the applications will reside on both internal and external platforms; Remote Terminal applications reside completely on the external resource; only the car display is used as to replicate the HMI. (See image 2). This flexibility and the cloud connectivity have a huge potential to alter OEM business models, predicted QNX VP Engineering Sebastien Marineau-Mes in a presentation.
Image 2: Infotainment aApplications can run anywhere. Not very surprisingly, QNX sees smartphones as the ideal platform.
Beyond the smartphone as the lynchpin in the new QNX strategy, the company also showed implementations of virtual instrument clusters implemented by means of its Neutrino RTOS and its Aviage HMI suite. One of the exhibits was a Jaguar XJ with a context-sensitive all-electronic instrument panel (see image 3). The instruments are virtual; the right one can be replaced on the fly by other HMI elements or by an electronic manual.
Image 3: A large LCD display has put an end to mechanical pointer instruments in the Jaguar XJ.
At the opportunity of the event, EE Times Europe Automotive also learned some interesting technical details if the Audi A8 platform: Currently it is driven by a Renesas 800 MHz microprocessor along with an NVIDIA graphics controller. There are plans to replace the Renesas microprocessor by an ARM piece in the next generation. Audi also plans to offer a similar infotainment system for its new low-end model A1 – probably without the usual “trickle-down” process from top-end to low-end vehicles. However, for the time being the timeline remains unclear.