Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A matter of convergence: building digital instrument clusters with Qt on QNX

Tuukka Turunen
Guest post by Tuukka Turunen, Head of R&D at The Qt Company

The Qt application framework is widely used in automotive infotainment systems with a variety of operating system and hardware configurations. With digital instrument clusters becoming increasingly common in new models, there are significant synergies to be gained from using the same technologies for both the infotainment system and the cluster. To be able to do this, you need to choose technologies, such as Qt and QNX, that can easily address the requirements of both environments.

Qt is the leading cross-platform technology for the creation of applications and user interfaces for desktop, mobile, and embedded systems. Based on C++, the Qt framework provides fast native performance via a versatile and efficient API. It’s easy to create modern, hardware-accelerated user interfaces using Qt Quick user interface technology and its QML language. Qt comes with an integrated development environment (IDE) tailored for developing applications and embedded devices. Leveraging the QNX Neutrino Realtime OS to run Qt provides significant advantages for addressing the requirements of functional safety.

There is a strong trend in the automotive industry to create instrument clusters using digital graphics rather than traditional electromechanical and analog gauges. Unlike the first digital clusters in the 70s, which used 7-segment displays to indicate speed, today’s clusters typically show a digital representation of the analog speedometer along with an array of other information, such as RPM, navigation, vehicle information, and infotainment content. The benefits compared to analog gauges are obvious; for example, it is possible to adapt the displayed items according to the driver’s needs in different situations, or easily create regional variants, or adapt the style of the instrument cluster to the car model and user’s preferences.

A unified experience — for both developers and users
Traditionally, the speedometer and radio have been two very different systems, but today their development paths are converging. Convergence will drive the need for consistency as otherwise the user experience will be fragmented. To meet the needs of tomorrow’s vehicles, it is essential that the two screens are aware of each other and interoperate. It is also likely that, while these are converging, certain items will remain specific to each domain. Furthermore, the convergence will help accelerate time-to-market for car manufacturers by offering simplified system design and faster development cycles.

Qt, which is already widely used in state-of-the-art in-vehicle infotainment systems and many other complex systems, is an excellent technology to unify the creation of these converging systems. By leveraging the same versatile Qt framework and tools for both the cluster and the infotainment system, it is possible to achieve synergies in the engineering work as well as in the resulting application. With the rich graphics capabilities of Qt, creating attractive user interfaces for a unified experience across all screens of the vehicle cockpit becomes a reality.

Cluster demonstrator built with Qt 5.6.

Maximal efficiency
Qt has been used very successfully in QNX-based automotive and general embedded systems for a long time. To show how well Qt 5.6 and our latest Qt based cluster demonstrator run on top of the QNX OS, which is pre-certified to ISO 26262 ASIL D, we brought them together on NXP’s widely used i.MX 6 processor. As the cluster HMI is made with Qt, it runs on any platform supported by Qt, including the QNX OS, without having to be rewritten.

The cluster demonstrator leverages Qt Quick for most of the cluster and Qt 3D for the car model. The application logic is written in C++ for maximal efficiency. By using the Qt Quick Compiler, the QML parts run as efficiently as if they too were written in C++, speeding up the startup time by removing the run-time compilation step.

The following video presents the cluster demonstrator running on the QNX OS and the QNX Screen windowing system:

A straightforward path
The QNX OS has been certified to both IEC 61508 SIL 3 and ISO 26262 ASIL D, so it provides a smooth and straightforward path for addressing the functional safety certification of an automotive instrument cluster. Qt 5.6 has been built for the QNX OS using the GCC toolchain provided by QNX Software Systems. The display of the cluster is a 12.3" HSXGA (1280×480) screen and the CPU is NXP’s i.MX 6 processor, which is well-suited to automotive instrument clusters.

Our research and development efforts continue with a goal to make it straightforward to build sophisticated digital instrument clusters with Qt. We believe that Qt is the best choice for building infotainment systems and clusters, but that it is particularly beneficial when used in both of these. Please contact us to discuss how Qt can be used in automotive, as well as in other industries, or to evaluate the latest Qt version on the QNX platform.

Visit qt.io for more information on Qt.

About Tuukka
Tuukka Turunen leads R&D at The Qt Company. He holds a Master’s of Science in Engineering and a Licentiate of Technology from the University of Oulu, Finland. He has over 20 years of experience working in a variety of positions in the software industry, especially around connected embedded systems.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

When the rubber ducky hits the road

Paul Leroux
Rubber duckies are born multitaskers. They can serve as bath toys. Or race for charity. Or track ocean currents. Heck, they can even act as crash-test dummies in tiny autonomous vehicles. Don’t believe me? Then check out the following video from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, otherwise known an CSAIL.

Kidding aside, CSAIL has a launched a graduate course on the science of autonomy. This spring, students were tasked to create a fleet of miniature robo-taxis that could autonomously navigate roads using a single on-board camera and no pre-programmed maps. Here is the (impressive) result:

The course looks like fun (and I’m sure it is), but in the process, students learn how to integrate multiple disciplines, including control theory, machine learning, and computer vision. Which, to my mind, is just ducky. :-)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Autonomous cars that can navigate winter roads? ‘Snow problem!

A look at what happens when you equip a Ford Fusion with sensor fusion.

Paul Leroux
Lets face it, cars and snow don’t mix. A heavy snowfall can tax the abilities of even the best driver — not to mention the best automated driving algorithm. As I discussed a few months ago, snow can mask lane markers, obscure street signs, and block light-detection sensors, making it difficult for an autonomous car to determine where it should go and what it should do. Snow can even trick the car into “seeing” phantom objects.

Automakers, of course, are working on the problem. Case in point: Ford’s autonomous research vehicles. These experimental Ford Fusion sedans create 3D maps of roads and surrounding infrastructure when the weather is good and visibility clear. They then use the maps to position themselves when the road subsequently disappears under a blanket of the white stuff.

How accurate are the maps? According to Ford, the vehicles can position themselves to within a centimeter of their actual location. Compare that to GPS, which is accurate to about 10 yards (9 meters).

To create the maps, the cars use LiDAR scanners. These devices collect a ginormous volume of data about the road and surrounding landmarks, including signs, buildings, and trees. Did I say ginormous? Sorry, I meant gimongous: 600 gigabytes per hour. The scanners generate so many laser points — 2.8 million per second — that some can bounce off falling snowflakes or raindrops, creating the false impression that an object is in the way. To eliminate these false positives, Ford worked with U of Michigan researchers to create an algorithm that filters out snow and rain.

The cars don’t rely solely on LiDAR. They also use cameras and radar, and blend the data from all three sensor types in a process known as sensor fusion. This “fused” approach compensates for the shortcomings of any particular sensor technology, allowing the car to interpret its environment with greater certainty. (To learn more about sensor fusion for autonomous cars, check out this recent EE Times Automotive article from Hannes Estl of TI.)

Ford claims to be the first automaker to demonstrate robot cars driving in the snow. But it certainly won’t be the last. To gain worldwide acceptance, robot cars will have to prove themselves on winter roads, so we are sure to see more innovation on this (cold) front. ;-)

In the meantime, dim the lights and watch this short video of Ford’s “snowtonomy” technology:

Did you know? In January, QNX announced a new software platform for ADAS and automated driving systems, including sensor fusion solutions that combine data from multiple sources such as cameras and radar processors. Learn more about the platform here and here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Goodbye analog, hello digital

Since 2008, QNX has explored how digital instrument clusters will change the driving experience.

Paul Leroux
Quick: What do the Alfa Romeo 4C, Audi TT, Audi Q7, Corvette Stingray, Jaguar XJ, Land Rover Range Rover, and Mercedes S Class Coupe have in common?

Answer: They would all look awesome in my driveway! But seriously, they all have digital instrument clusters powered by the QNX Neutrino OS.

QNX Software Systems has established a massive beachhead in automotive infotainment and telematics, with deployments in over 60 million cars. But it’s also moving into other growth areas of the car, including advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), multi-function displays, and, of course, digital instrument clusters.

Retrofitting the QNX reference
vehicle with a new digital cluster.
The term “digital cluster” means different things to different people. To boomers like myself, it can conjure up memories of 1980s dashboards equipped with less-than-sexy segment displays — just the thing if you want your dash to look like a calculator. Thankfully, digital clusters have come a long way. Take, for example, the slick, high-resolution cluster in the Audi TT. Designed to display everything directly in front of the driver, this QNX-powered system integrates navigation and infotainment information with traditional cluster readouts, such as speed and RPM. It’s so advanced that the folks at Audi don’t even call it a cluster — they call it virtual cockpit, instead.

Now here’s the thing: digital clusters require higher-end CPUs and more software than their analog predecessors, not to mention large LCD panels. So why are automakers adopting them? Several reasons come to mind:

  • Reusable — With a digital cluster, automakers can deploy the same hardware across multiple vehicle lines simply by reskinning the graphics.
  • Simple — Digital clusters can help reduce driver distraction by displaying only the information that the driver currently requires.
  • Scalable — Automakers can add functionality to a digital cluster by changing the software only; they don’t have to incur the cost of machining or adding new physical components.
  • Attractive — A digital instrument cluster can enhance the appeal of a vehicle with eye-catching graphics and features.
In addition to these benefits, the costs of high-resolution LCD panels and the CPUs needed to drive them are dropping, making digital instrument clusters an increasingly affordable alternative.

2008: The first QNX cluster
It’s no coincidence that so many automakers are using the QNX Neutrino OS in their digital clusters. For years now, QNX Software Systems has been exploring how digital clusters can enhance the driving experience and developing technologies to address the requirements of cluster developers.

Let’s start with the very first digital cluster that the QNX team created, a proof-of-concept that debuted in 2008. Despite its vintage, this cluster has several things in common with our more recent clusters — note, for example, the integrated turn-by-turn navigation instructions:

For 2008, this was pretty cool. But as an early proof-of-concept, it lacked some niceties, such as visual cues that could suggest which information is, or isn’t, currently important. For instance, in this screenshot, the gauges for fuel level, engine temperature, and oil pressure all indicate normal operation, so they don’t need to be so prominent. They could, instead, be shrunk or dimmed until they need to alert the driver to a critical change — and indeed, we explored such ideas soon after we created the original design. As you’ll see, the ability to prioritize information for the driver becomes quite sophisticated in subsequent generations of our concept clusters.

Did you know? To create this 2008 cluster, QNX engineers used Adobe Flash Lite 3 and OpenGL ES.

2010: Concept cluster in a Chevrolet Corvette
Next up is the digital cluster in the first QNX technology concept car, based on a Chevrolet Corvette. If the cluster design looks familiar, it should: it’s modeled after the analog cluster that shipped in the 2010-era ‘Vettes. It’s a great example of how a digital instrument cluster can deliver state-of-the-art features, yet still honor the look-and-feel of an established brand. For example, here is the cluster in “standard” mode, showing a tachometer, just as it would in a stock Corvette:

And here it is again, but with something that you definitely wouldn’t find in a 2010 Corvette cluster — an integrated navigation app:

Did you know? The Corvette is the only QNX technology concept car that I ever got to drive.

2013: Concept cluster in a Bentley Continental GT
Next up is the digital cluster for the 2013 QNX technology concept car, based on a Bentley Continental GT. This cluster took the philosophy embodied in the Corvette cluster — honor the brand, but deliver forward-looking features — to the next level.

Are you familiar with the term Trompe-l’œil? It’s a French expression that means “deceive the eye” and it refers to art techniques that make 2D objects appear as if they are 3D objects. It’s a perfect description of the gorgeously realistic virtual gauges we created for the Bentley cluster:

Because it was digital, this cluster could morph itself on the fly. For instance, if you put the Bentley in Drive, the cluster would display a tach, gas gauge, temperature gauge, and turn-by-turn directions — the cluster pulled these directions from the head unit’s navigation system. And if you threw the car into Reverse, the cluster would display a video feed from the car’s backup camera. The cluster also had other tricks up its digital sleeve, such as displaying information from the car’s media player.

Did you know? The Bentley came equipped with a 616 hp W12 engine that could do 0-60 mph in a little over 4 seconds. Which may explain why they never let me drive it.

2014: Concept cluster in a Mercedes CLA45 AMG
Plymouth safety speedometer, c 1939
Up next is the 2014 QNX technology concept car, based on Mercedes CLA45 AMG. But before we look at its cluster, let me tell you about the Plymouth safety speedometer. Designed to curb speeding, it alerted the driver whenever he or she leaned too hard on the gas.

But here’s the thing: the speedometer made its debut in 1939. And given the limitations of 1939 technology, the speedometer couldn’t take driving conditions or the local speed limit into account. So it always displayed the same warnings at the same speeds, no matter what the speed limit.

Connectivity to the rescue! Some modern navigation systems include information on local speed limits. By connecting the CLA45’s concept cluster to the navigation system in the car’s head unit, the QNX team was able to pull this information and display it in real time on the cluster, creating a modern equivalent of Plymouth's 1939 invention.

Look at the image below. You’ll see the local speed limit surrounded by a red circle, alerting the driver that they are breaking the limit. The cluster could also pull other information from the head unit, including turn-by-turn directions, trip information, album art, and other content normally relegated to the center display:

Did you know? Our Mercedes concept car is still alive and well in Germany, and recently made an appearance at the Embedded World conference in Nuremburg.

2015: Concept cluster in a Maserati Quattroporte
Up next is the 2015 QNX technology concept car, based on a Maserati Quattroporte GTS. Like the cluster in the Mercedes, this concept cluster provided speed alerts. But it could also recommend an appropriate speed for upcoming curves and warn of obstacles on the road ahead. It even provided intelligent parking assist to help you back into tight spaces.

Here is the cluster displaying a speed alert:

And here it is again, using input from a LiDAR system to issue a forward collision warning:

Did you know? Engadget selected the “digital mirrors” we created for the Maserati as a finalist for the Best of CES Awards 2015.

2015 and 2016: Concept clusters in QNX reference vehicle
The QNX reference vehicle, based on a Jeep Wrangler, is our go-to vehicle for showcasing the latest capabilities of the QNX CAR Platform for Infotainment. But it also does double-duty as a technology concept vehicle. For instance, in early 2015, we equipped the Jeep with a concept cluster that provides lane departure warnings, collision detection, and curve speed warnings. For instance, in this image, the cluster is recommending that you reduce speed to safely navigate an upcoming curve:

Just in time for CES 2016, the Jeep cluster got another makeover that added crosswalk notifications to the mix:

Did you know? Jeep recently unveiled the Trailcat, a concept Wrangler outfitted with a 707HP Dodge Hellcat engine.

2016: Glass cockpit in a Toyota Highlander
By now, you can see how advances in sensors, navigation databases, and other technologies enable us to integrate more information into a digital instrument cluster, all to keep the driver aware of important events in and around the vehicle. In our 2016 technology concept vehicle, we took the next step and explored what would happen if we did away with an infotainment system altogether and integrated everything — speed, RPM, ADAS alerts, 3D navigation, media control and playback, incoming phone calls, etc. — into a single cluster display.

On the one hand, this approach presented a challenge, because, well… we would be integrating everything into a single display! Things could get busy, fast. On the other hand, this approach presents everything of importance directly in front of the driver, where it is easiest to see. No more glancing over at a centrally mounted head unit.

Simplicity was the watchword. We had to keep distraction to a minimum, and to do that, we focused on two principles: 1) display only the information that the driver currently requires; and 2) use natural language processing as the primary way to control the user interface. That way, drivers can access infotainment content while keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

For instance, in the following scenario, the cockpit allows the driver to see several pieces of important information at a glance: a forward-collision warning, an alert that the car is exceeding the local speed limit by 12 mph, and map data with turn-by-turn navigation:

This design also aims to minimize the mental translation, or cognitive processing, needed on the part of the driver. For instance, if you exceed the speed limit, the cluster doesn’t simply show your current speed. It also displays a red line (visible immediately below the 52 mph readout) that gives you an immediately recognizable hint that you are going too fast. The more you exceed the limit, the thicker the red line grows.

The 26262 connection
Today’s digital instrument clusters require hardware and software solutions that can support rich graphics and high-level application environments while also displaying critical information (e.g. engine warning lights, ABS indicators) in a fast and highly reliable fashion. The need to isolate critical from non-critical software functions in the same environment is driving the requirement for ISO 26262 certification of digital clusters.

QNX OS technology, including the QNX OS for Safety, is ideally suited for environments where a combination of infotainment, advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), and safety-related information are displayed. Building a cluster with the ISO 26262 ASIL-D certified QNX OS for Safety can make it simpler to keep software functions isolated from each other and less expensive to certify the end cluster product.

The partner connection
Partnerships are also important. If you had the opportunity to drop by our booth at 2016 CES, you would have seen a “cluster innovation wall” that showcases QNX OS technology integrated with user interface design tools from the industry’s leading cluster software providers, including 3D Incorporated’s REMO HMI Runtime, Crank Software’s Storyboard Suite, DiSTI Corporation’s GL Studio, Elektrobit’s EB GUIDE, HI Corporation’s exbeans UI Conductor, and Rightware’s Kanzi UI software. This pre-integration with a rich choice of partner tools enables our customers to choose the user interface technologies and design approaches that best address their instrument cluster requirements.

For some partner insights on digital cluster design, check out these posts:

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

QNX OS for Safety named best software product at Embedded World

“Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character” — legendary basketball coach John Wooden

Patryk Fournier
Earlier today, at Embedded World 2016, QNX won an embedded AWARD for its QNX OS for Safety, an operating system designed for safety-critical applications in the automotive, rail transportation, healthcare, and industrial automation markets. The OS was named best product in the software category.

This award win is a testament to the commitment and integrity that drives QNX to continuously release world-class products. In fact, this marks the fourth time that QNX Software Systems has won an embedded AWARD. In 2014, it took top honors for QNX Acoustics for Active Noise Control (ANC), a software library that cancels out distracting engine noise in cars while eliminating the dedicated hardware required by conventional ANC solutions. The company also won in 2006 for its multicore-enabled operating system and development tools, and in 2004 for power management technology.

The QNX OS for Safety is built on a highly reliable software architecture proven in nuclear power plants, train control systems, laser eye-surgery devices, and a variety of other safety-critical environments. It was created to meet the rigorous IEC 61508 functional safety standard as well as industry-specific standards based on IEC 61508. These include ISO 26262 for passenger vehicles, EN 50128 for railway applications, IEC 62304 for medical devices, and IEC 61511 for factory automation, process control, and robotics.

Hats off to the many talented QNX staffers responsible for developing, certifying, promoting, and selling the QNX OS for Safety!

The media scrum at today's award ceremony.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Award season

Patryk Fournier
The first two months of the calendar year are often referred to as award season by the entertainment industry. Although we don’t compete with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, we still feel honored with the recent accolades and awards being bestowed upon us.

In the category of Best Backhaul Software or Development Platform for Automakers, the winner is… QNX Software Systems.

Thank you so much to Auto Connected Car News and all the people and companies who voted for us in the Tech CARS Awards. We pride ourselves on offering flexible development platforms that enable automakers to deliver unique, branded experiences. Working with leading-edge automakers and Tier 1 suppliers drives us (pardon the pun) to continue upping our game in advanced platforms for infotainment, digital instrument clusters, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), and acoustics — including, of course, the recently announced QNX Platform for ADAS and QNX Acoustics Management Platform.

We would also like to congratulate our fellow award winners, Ford and Harman. Ford won for Overall Best Car Infotainment Software by Automaker for their QNX-powered SYNC 3 connectivity system.

And speaking of Ford, the GSMA Global Mobile Awards recently announced their shortlist of finalists. And we just happen to be a finalist in the category of Best Mobile Innovation for Automotive for our work in Ford SYNC 3.

QNX-powered Ford SYNC 3: Shortlisted for a 2016 Glomo Award. Source: Ford
The Global Mobile Awards, newly rebranded as the Glomo Awards, will take place on February 23 at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring”

Patryk Fournier
The quote is from the now late but great David Bowie and is extremely prophetic when you apply it to autonomous driving. Autonomous driving is very much still uncharted territory. Investments in roadway infrastructures are being made, consumer acceptance is trending positive, and, judging by the news and excitement from CES 2016, the future if anything will not be boring.

CES 2016 stretched into the weekend this year and ICYMI there was a lot of compelling media coverage of QNX and BlackBerry. Here’s a roundup of the most interesting coverage from the weekend:

ARS Technica: QNX demos new acoustic and ADAS technologies
The crew from ARSTechnica filmed a terrific demonstration of the QNX Acoustics Management Platform and the QNX Platform for ADAS. The demonstration highlights the power and versatility of the acoustics platform, including the QNX In-Car Communication module, which allows the driver to effortlessly speak to passengers in the back of the vehicle, over the roar of an engine revving at high speed. The demonstration also showcases how the QNX OS can support augmented reality and heads-up displays:

Huffington Post: CES 2016 Proves The Future Of Driverless Cars Is Promising
Huffington Post highlighted BlackBerry and QNX as key newsmakers for advancements in driverless cars. The article notes QNX’s automotive leadership: “The software is actually installed in 50 per cent of the world’s automotive infotainment systems including Audi, Volkswagen, Ford, GM and Chrysler.”

Crackberry: Inside the QNX Toyota Highlander at CES 2016
The folks at CrackBerry filmed a demonstration of our latest technology concept vehicle, based on a Toyota Highlander. The demo focuses on the QNX In-Car Communication acoustics module, which forms part of the recently launched QNX Acoustics Management Platform:

HERE 360: QNX and HERE bring to life a multi-screen experience in vehicles
A blog post from our ecosystem partner mentions HERE navigation and its use in the Toyota Highlander and Jeep Wrangler technology concept vehicles.