Special Coverage

2010 Convergence

DETROIT – QNX Software Systems Co., a supplier of operating systems and middleware for vehicle infotainment, hopes to trim auto makers’ development costs and time-to-market by enhancing mobile-device connectivity.

“Basically, we’re giving auto makers a reference platform they can customize themselves,” says Andrew Poliak, director-business development at QNX.

“It’s going to save them money, because they don’t have to design the systems themselves and will help cut product development time, which since QNX entered automotive in 1999 has gone from five years to now as little as 18 months,” he tells Ward’s on the floor of the SAE Convergence 2010 conference here.

In short, the supplier connects existing vehicle technologies to a mobile device, and via the device, connects the vehicle to cloud computing. QNX showcases the enhancements here in a Chevrolet Corvette, a vehicle which, ironically, is starving for an upgraded infotainment system.

The supplier swaps out the Corvette’s existing head unit for demonstration purposes, adding an oversized multimedia touch screen and console-mounted navigation wheel. Mobile devices plug into a USB connection inside the center-console storage area.

The unit imports applications from mobile devices, such as maps, Pandora streaming audio and Web browsing. Poliak says the system’s capability to run mobile-device applications is limited only by distracted-driving regulations.

The Corvette also gets a nifty reconfigurable digital instrument cluster, which features the standard speedometer and tachometer but also can be switched to show items such as navigation, weather or album art from the mobile device’s music application.

Both systems are pre-integrated and standards-based to keep an auto maker’s costs and customization to a minimum.

Two new technologies showcased by QNX with the modified Corvette head unit and instrument cluster include “Terminal Mode” and “Apple iPod Out.”

Terminal Mode replicates a smart phone’s screen on the Corvette’s multimedia screen, allowing the driver to use steering-wheel buttons, the touch screen or the mobile device, itself, to surf through applications. The system also can import new mobile-device applications as they become available.

Poliak demonstrates Terminal Mode’s capabilities using a BlackBerry smart phone, although it also synchronizes with products from Nokia Corp., as well as Android-based mobile operating systems.

Apple iPod Out, as the name suggests, connects the Corvette with Apple products, giving drivers a familiar, up-to-date interface.

The goal would be to add as many mobile-device makers as possible to QNX’s platform, Poliak says. Based in Ottawa, ON, Canada, QNX recently was bought by BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. from Harman Industries International.

Poliak demonstrate how a driver can keep track of vehicle-maintenance schedules and routinely check items such as vehicle fluid levels and tire pressure.

The executive says the technologies help keep vehicles fresh, since lead times in the mobile-device industry are much shorter than in the auto industry.