QNX: "Deliver features that truly engage consumers"

QNX: "Deliver features that truly engage consumers"

Derek, what is your specific role and that of your department at QNX?

As VP of sales and marketing, I have a broad mandate. On any given week, you can find me visiting customers, doing media interviews, sitting on conference panels, working on product roadmaps, developing go-to-market strategies, and evangelizing industry standards like HTML5.

Busy? Yes. Exciting? Definitely. I get to work with the world’s largest automakers and be part of a talented team that is making the connected car a reality. It’s a great ride.

One of the hottest topics these days is what type of embedded solutions OEMs will integrate into vehicles. QNX has championed the digital HMI option, replacing traditional dashboard interfaces with graphics based on OpenGL ES, HTML5 and other technologies. Why?

Because it helps our automotive customers achieve greater ROI and deliver features that truly engage consumers. For instance, with a digital instrument cluster, you can deploy the same hardware across multiple vehicle lines; only the HMI needs to change.

You can also add features by changing only the software; you don’t have to incur the cost of machining or adding new physical components. In effect, you can minimize the number of SKUs you must support, as well as the turnaround between new models.

Because the costs of LCD displays are coming down, digital instrument clusters can be price competitive with analog gauges, while enabling new features that benefit the driver. For instance, a digital cluster can dynamically reconfigure itself for route navigation, off-road driving, eco-enhanced driving, or other drive modes.

From a cost standpoint, powerful tools and frameworks like EB GUIDE or OpenGL ES enable designers to build attractive cluster HMIs in a relatively short amount of time. Mind you, it’s not just about splashy displays. A digital cluster can potentially reduce distraction by dimming or removing gauges the driver doesn’t currently need. It can also display information from other systems — such as video from a rear-view camera or turn-by-turn navigation instructions from a connected smartphone — right where the driver needs to see it.

One of the benefits of a platform like QNX's is that it allows in-car systems to be fully customizable for each driver. What are the biggest technical hurdles in pulling off a customizeable platform?

When we designed the QNX CAR 2 platform, our goal was to make changing the look-and-feel of in-vehicle HMIs as easy as possible. This support for customization taps into the mobile personalization trend by giving drivers control over their user experience. But it can also be a huge cost saver for automakers and suppliers, since it enables them to target multiple product lines with a single hardware design.

The devil, of course, is in the details. To make this HMI customization possible, we had to implement a software architecture that cleanly separates the HMI from the underlying application logic. We also had to eliminate the brittle mechanisms that traditionally connect HMIs with other software components, and implement something far more flexible. The end result: A user interface designer can modify the HMI without requiring modifications to the applications or software services that the HMI communicates with. But even then, this flexibility would have had limited appeal if we forced designers to use proprietary tools. So we implemented our reference HMI layer in HTML5, which is widely supported and well understood by large numbers of designers and developers.

What are the biggest challenges in the market for QNX today, and how do you plan to overcome them?

Managing the speed of change is probably the biggest challenge. Until recently, our automotive customers worked in three-year development cycles. And in many cases, that’s still true. But more and more, customers are demanding features that they want to roll out in six months to a year.

To address these demands, we offer an array of mobile connectivity options, as well as a modular platform that makes it easier to plug in new features and perform FOTA software updates. We also work with a large ecosystem to pre-integrate most of the base technologies our customers require. That way, they can spend more of their increasingly limited time on product differentiation.

Driver distraction is on everyone's mind, including the government's. How do you toe the fine line between giving drivers total connection and ensuring that their minds stay focused on the task at hand?

Our strategy is to give automakers and suppliers the tools they need to control the user experience, including access to potentially distracting apps or services. We also offer products like the QNX acoustic processing suite, which helps reduce cognitive load and minimize distraction by making handsfree calls easier to hear and understand.

Mind you, technology alone isn’t enough. We realized some time ago that the industry is in dire need of standards relating to distraction. And so, Scott Pennock, a member of the QNX automotive team, became the founding chair for the ITU’s Focus Group on Driver Distraction. This group has a mandate to pull together expertise from the automotive industry and human factors experts into a standardization process. Their work helps us understand how to build vehicle HMIs and how to integrate mobile technologies in a way that can help OEMs mitigate distraction.

We're in the midst of such a dynamic time for the telematics industry, with so many different solutions coming to market. How does QNX feel about standardization, which some view as inevitable?

We believe in standards, not as an imposed restriction, but as a way to support innovation while enabling inoperability. Take HTML5, for example. It provides our automotive customers with the capabilities of a traditional HMI toolkit, but it also gives them everything that a proprietary toolkit can’t offer: access to a vast pool of developers, the ability to work with the latest mobile apps and devices, inherent support for connected applications, and freedom from vendor lock-in. That’s why we’re so bullish about HTML5 and why we’ve built the QNX CAR 2 platform from the ground up to support it.

That said, customers need room to differentiate. In addition to HTML5, they may want to use Qt, OpenGL ES, or their own HMI toolkits. That’s why our platform allows customers to blend their HTML5 applications with other user interface technologies, on the same display and even at the same time.

Finally, what are you most excited about for the coming several years? Do you anticipate the industry stretching in unexpected directions?

We anticipate a large upswing in driver assistance technologies. In fact, production vehicles that can drive themselves are only years away. Several factors contribute to this trend, including aging baby boomers and a new generation of consumers who are more interested in being connected than in driving. QNX has a long and proven history in safety-critical control systems — our technology controls everything from nuclear plants to high-speed trains — so this drive towards self-driving cars is something we are very excited about.


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