20 October 2010

QNX Automotive Innovation Celebration at Convergence

What do you do when your customers support you all the way to the top of the heap - as in 200+ makes and models, and 20 million vehicle system licenses? You thank them of course.

QNX Software Systems held a fun and warm reception last night for customers. The food was surprisingly tasty, the event well attended, and the vibe unmistakably ... um, well ... really, really good.

This reception made me wonder. Is a good event just like a good party? Do they just 'happen'? And when they do happen, can we as marketers learn from them? Nah ...

What are little digital instrument clusters made of?

Well, it's not snips and snails, and puppy-dog tails. It's more like steppers and LCDs, and integrated graphic controllers. And of course the right software.

Fujitsu is carving out their territory in digital instrument cluster space by offering a highly tailored line of processors: Jade, Ruby, Emerald, Indigo, and Sapphire. The QNX Neutrino RTOS runs on the SOC versions of these chips to enable beautiful, smooth, graphics displays.

Compare the Range Rover's cluster (pictured here) with the Ford Fusion's in the Fujitsu booth (#817) and you'll see for yourself why software makes a big difference.

Just how important is the software? Fujitsu is showing two actual production instrument clusters in their Convergence booth (#817). One is rather jerky and the other is smooth and fluid. Jerky and hesitating? The competition's cluster, of course! Smooth as silk? You guessed it. The QNX-based cluster on the Range Rover. And that's in addition to the latter cluster driving a far bigger display with more impressive graphics. Same chip.

I guess the right software is what little digital instrument clusters are made of.

Freescale SABRE rattles the house at Convergence

Remember the Total5200 and Media5200 - two fully-loaded development platforms for doing auto development that Freescale provided several years ago? We haven't seen anything quite like this in a long time. Freescale fixed that problem yesterday with their i.MX53 automotive reference board at the show, called the Smart Application Blueprint for Rapid Engineering (SABRE). They're demoing it in their private suite. The SABRE is running with a hot-off-the-press port of the QNX CAR Application Platform infotainment reference.

The powerful SABRE will strike fear into the hearts of automotive competitors with the new Freescale i.MX53 main board and support for the QNX Neutrino RTOS.

If you're looking for power, this platform has it, with a dual core 800MHz Cortex A8. The QNX Neutrino RTOS supports both cores with SMP to maximize application throughput. The board is loaded with a host of interfaces and connectors ideal for advanced automotive infotainment and telematics development: WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, cellular modem, MOST and CAN, tons of audio jacks, terrestrial and satellite tuners, cameras, and displays. Graphics acceleration for OpenGL ES 2.0 and OpenVG round out the offering.

It's been a while since a development board for automotive has had this much power and capability.With QNX supporting this platform at yesterday's unveiling and with the i.MX53 being such a popular chip in automotive, I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of it.

Convergence 2010 booth visitors speak out about their connectivity priorities

Yesterday at the QNX booth, we asked visitors to rank in order of importance their top connected car features. There are no real big surprises but it is always good to hear from the proverbial horse's mouth:
  1. personal device connectivity - over 50% of respondants rank this as their top priority
  2. connectivity within the car for infotainment systems
  3. connectivity around the car to help drivers navigate better, and cloud connectivity - tied for third
The Blue Ribbon panel at yesterday's session had many more interesting thoughts to add to this conversation. See What will the auto industry look like in 2012 for details.

Connected Car 2.0 at Convergence 2010: Why the Corvette?

The QNX booth at yesterday's SAE Convergence show in Detroit was without a doubt, one of the busiest on the exhibit floor. I know that sounds biased but the proof is really in the pudding. 

The Connected Car 2.0 drew a constant crowd of excited onlookers throughout day one.

Many people were curious about why we chose the Corvette. The answer is simple according to Derek Kuhn, VP of marketing and sales. "The Corvette is a classic 'driver's car' but it's never been known for its technology. Turning the vet into a souped-up technology car shows people that they can have the best of both worlds."

19 October 2010

How is Gen Y changing the automotive landscape?

Here's a few other interesting nuggets from this morning's Blue Ribbon panel at Convergence 2010.

OnStar: The older generation saw the physical car as a statement. Gen Y sees connectivity the same way. And they want customization.

RIM: Connectivity is an innate behavior, regardless of generation. Gen Y will want applications we dont yet know about; for this we need a flexible platform.

Sprint: They have a Pavlovian response to email or SMS. We need to figure out how they can do it safely in the car because they are going to do it anyways.

Microsoft: Gen Y needs the ability to access their own ‘personal cloud’.

Gartner: This segment of our audience tends to buy used vehicles. [Ed note: Is Koslowski referring to an after-market opportunity?]

Moderator: Gen Y wants the vehicle to become their second home.

What will the auto industry look like in 2012?

Here's what the folks at today's Blue Ribbon panel (Convergence 2010) had to say when asked the above-mentioned question:

Sprint: Vehicle to infrastructure (v to i) will be very important.

KIA: The industry will be looking at how to commoditze data.

Microsoft: A natural user interface will be big.

RIM: Intersection with the user’s lifestyle; how to make the car a destination point.

ATX: Management of loyalty, relationship with the consumer.

Freescale: We will be talking about what no one has thought of yet.

OnStar: Fundamental cost of maintaining connectivity after purchase.

Gartner: We'll be looking at things like leveraging metadata to improve traffic flow.

15 October 2010

Convergence 2010: QNX gets laser focused

According to Susan Friedmann, the Tradeshow Coach and author of Meeting and Event Planning for Dummies, over 76% of visitors go to shows to see “what’s new.”

Believe it or not, having no shortage of new can be a curse. Getting a group of excited engineers to focus is not for the faint of heart. But without a strong focus, you get the tradeshow equivalent of a three-ring circus - too many pods, too much literature, too many graphics ... you get the idea.

The QNX booth (#717) at this year's automotive Convergence show is, I'm happy to say, laser focused. We'll be showing off one thing and one thing only - but what a thing! The Connected Car 2.0.

This new four-wheeled proof of concept illustrates in full 3D glory, the future of the in-vehicle experience. Like the connected car before it, our new concept car is built on the QNX CAR Application Platform, a complete production-ready software stack. Its customizable HMI and pre-integrated software is a boon to development teams creating the new breed of in-vehicle infotainment systems.

I'm not exactly a 'car guy' but I think this is one sweet ride! Wish I could show you all the gory details (sneak peak above) but I'd be scooping our PR dude, who normally shuns such preemptive excitement. More to follow.

18 June 2010

Nike versus Adidas (or YouTube versus BoobTube) at FIFA

There are many who still think social media is a passing fad at best, a kids playground at worst. Nike is not one of them.

The reigning sponsor in soccer is Adidas. To maintain this status, the company purchased the greatest sanctioned presence at this month’s FIFA World Cup for $200 M. Up-and-comer rival, Nike, did not take this lying down. In fact they fought back.

What Nike didn't do is every bit as important as what they did do. They didn't purchase expensive TV ad space. Nor did they rent a led zeppelin. Rather, Nike created a video - a very creative commercial - and posted it on YouTube.

The Nike video, Write the Future, was released on May 17 and went viral in just 10 days. With close to 16 M views to date, it has been lauded as the company's best creative work in soccer.

The folks at Adidas responded with a Star Wars Cantina video on June 12. This video has only 3.5 M views to date - definitely the creative weakling of the two - which is still not bad when considering the placement cost: Free.

Clearly Nike is the big winner with far better creative (no doubt planned well in advance), 16 M free views of their commercial, and no $200 M invoice to pay. Plus, they look like innovators, despite the closing claim of the Adidas video.

The take-away is so obvious it pains those of us who still try to convince our companies of the ROI of social media. Not only is YouTube a legitimate and cost-effective tool for marketers, it may soon displace the "boob tube" (hopefully I'm not the only one who remembers this expression) as the holy grail for advertisers.

11 May 2010

Video - in a flash

At the MarketingProfs B2B Conference last week in Boston, I heard about this video company, Pixability, that does fast and easy B2B videos. Their business model is great for anyone who needs to turn around video fast and who doesn't want to invest in equipment . Here's how the comany works:

I have yet to try the company myself but heard nothing but good reviews from the attendees in Boston.

14 April 2010

Apollo 13 anniversary

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Apolo 13. This struck me as interesting for two reasons. One: When all the other kids wanted to be doctors, teachers, lawyers, and the like, I wanted to be an astronaut. And two: QNX Software Systems just celebrated its 30th anniversary.

While the first thought is pretty much moot since I probably won't make the leap from marketer to rocket scientist in my 40s, the latter lead me to wonder about what Apollo 13 had for computerized systems. I mean, if QNX - the first commercially available microkernel RTOS - came into existance some 10 years after Apollo 13 and one year before DOS, what could the space mission possibly have used?

I quickly learned some interesting facts about the Apollo guidance computer (AGC), the principle embedded system aboard the spacecraft:
  • The hardware weighed 29.5 kg
  • Memory cycle time was 11.7 microseconds with a single addition time of 23.4 microseconds
  • Fixed memory (ROM) had a capacity of 67.5K with an erasable memory (RAM) of 3.75K
  • Developing and verifying a software program required a full year
  • The operations plan document was close to 10-cm thick
Commands were entered numerically into the AGC calculator-like UI as two digit verb and noun.codes. A verb code described the type of action to be performed (primarily displaying and loading) and a noun code specified which data was affected.  For example: Verb, V16, Noun, N36, Enter = display current time.

The basic display and keyboard (DSKY) aboard Apollo 13 was the UI for 198 basic verb and noun codes, which were combined for typical "Verb, V1, V2, Noun, N1, N2, Enter" sequences.

Fixed memory was high density core rope; tiny nickel-iron cores woven together with thousands of copper wires. This required developers to create and verify their programs before the rope was woven because the program determined the weaving or wiring sequence. The erasable memory used iron cores as storage devices.

 The AGC used magnetic core rope memory to store its programs, what we now call ROM. It used magnetic core arrays to store its dynamic memory, or RAM. 

The introduction of the integrated circuit is what the Apollo guidance computer is best known for. The integrated circuit was a risky choice at the time as the technology was considered untested, but it was necessary for the computer's digital logic. The AGC used only one type of chip although it used 5,000 of them. Soon therafter, this chip went on to power calculators like the HP-35 by the millions, giving birth to the semi-conductor industry.

As for software, AGC software was written in assembly language. While it was based on a simple real-time executive and batch job-scheduling that could run only eight tasks at a time using cooperative multi-tasking, there was an interrupt-driven component that could schedule multiple timer-driven tasks.

It all sounds very simple, however, the AGC was anything but. I could write a book on it but it appears many others already have. The point is, NASA was on the leading edge of computer science 40 years ago ... as it is today. And today it uses systems based on QNX software. And, quite frankly, it's no wonder.

QNX Software Systems has repeatedly been on the leading edge of innovation throughout the past 30 years. Our industry firsts are too numerous to mention right here and now. The AGC interface alone makes me grateful that QNX introduced the world's first microkernel-based windowing system back in 1994. (Take a look at this video of the AGC interface and you'll be grateful too.) Today, the QNX Neutrino RTOS is the foundation upon which systems in the shuttle and the space station are based.

So while I never did become an astronaut, I can take solace in the fact that a little part of me did make it into space. Granted this is a stretch but I'm stickin' to it.