For drivers, much of the software that QNX supplies to carmakers is out of sight--and most likely, out of mind. But one of the major players in the connected car space was front and center at the recent Telematics Detroit conference with some announcements that figure to have an impact on the infotainment systems inside your car.
Perhaps the most noise QNX made at Telematics Detroit came from a software update that will improve the sound in your car. The software maker announced Acoustics for Voice 3.0, designed to filter out engine noise and other car sounds such as vibrations, fans, and ambient road noise through the audio system using technology similar to what you'd find in noise-canceling headphones. Removing ambient sounds means a less noisy environment for phone calls over Bluetooth headsets or voice commands for your infotainment system.
"QNX Acoustics for Voice had very good sound quality, and the best I've ever heard in car," said Mark Fitzgerald, associate director for research firm Strategy Analytics, after he had a demo at Telematics Detroit. Even with a crowd outside the car, Fitzgerald said he had no problem understanding the person speaking to him through the QNX Acoustics system via Bluetooth. And when you can clearly hear the person on the other end of the phone, Fitzgerald added, it's easier to concentrate on driving.
Some cars that have noise cancelation require separate hardware. Now that QNX has software to do the job, cars could be lighter with less expensive quality sound features, Fitzgerald predicts. He added that since QNX enables 4G LTE cellular communications, it could be easier for carmakers to update car software over-the-air. Currently, most car software updates require either an USB stick or a trip to the dealer.
Also at Telematics Detroit, QNX debuted QNX OS for Automotive Safety 1.0 with safety certification. That may not resonate with drivers in the same way that improved sound does, but it's no less important. Safety certification is critical for cars with advanced driver assistance systems, according to Egil Juliussen, director and principal analyst for automotive infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems at research firm IHS. And Juliussen says that QNX has a proven track record for providing the most reliable safety software for carmakers.
According to Derek Kuhn, QNX's vice president of sales and marketing, the company's software integrates safety systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, and rearview cameras into an instrument panel, heads up display, or infotainment unit. The software also makes it possible for carmakers to use touch screens, scroll wheels, steering wheel buttons, or other forms of control such as sensors. QNX software can also be programmed to use alcohol interlock devices, which keep drunk drivers from starting the car.
In the future, Kuhn hopes that cars using QNX's safety software can be a sort of guardian angel, sensing human behavior and protecting the driver. Say you're driving, and you drop your sunglasses on the floor of the car; as you fumble around to pick them up, you take your eyes off the road. In this scenario, Kuhn says, a sensor would detect that you're not looking at the road, and adaptive cruise control kicks in to keep your car driving at a safe speed while a lane-keeping system makes sure the car doesn't veer into other lanes until you're paying attention again.
The look of the future
If all this seems like it has little impact on your drive from Point A to Point B, consider that QNX's software is used by the likes of Acura, Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes, Land Rover, Porsche, Toyota, and Volkswagen, not to mention some audio system makers. At shows like Telematics Detroit, carmakers see what new software features QNX has to offer and then decide what the infotainment and instrument panels will look like in future car designs. Think of it as an automotive Worldwide Developers Conference--just as Mac users look at that event for clues as to what Apple is working on, car analysts look at the news coming out of Telematics Detroit to see what they can expect in future models.
And QNX gave car watchers something to look forward to this month, even if that something is a lot further down the road. The company teamed up with interface technology firm Rightware to create a 3D instrument panel for a decked-out Mercedes Benz CLA45 AMG concept car. (That's an image of the 3D instrument panel at the top of this article.) The panel displays real-time data such as local speed limits, turn-by-turn directions, traffic reports, and incoming phone calls as well as music tracks; it can also show car diagnostics. More impressive, the look of the screen changes depending on what function it's performing.
All of this takes place in a panel by the steering wheel. That makes information easier to see and understand, Kuhn says.
Though it's part of a concept car, the 3D design could one day lead to an entirely different style of dashboard. IHS's Juliussen notes that 3D software and the falling prices of LCDs could allow cars to show more data in the instrument panel and head-up displays that pop out of the dash, with less dependence on "the center stack" where the infotainment system is built into the middle of the dash.