Monthly Archives: August 2016

New Open Source Infotainment System

Google and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles this week showcased a new in-auto infotainment platform at CES in Las Vegas. The open source system combines Uconnect with Android Auto.

The companies demonstrated their concept design inside a Chrysler 300 sedan at the show. The new system is built around Android 7.0, or Nougat, and an 8.4-inch Uconnect system.

The integration of Android and Uconnect enables a system built for connectivity and compatibility with the universe of popular Android applications. The demo highlighted integration with Google Assistant, Google Maps, and popular Android apps including Pandora, Spotify, NPR One and Pocket Casts.

The latest version of Android Auto includes core infotainment features such as radio and comfort controls.

The concept infotainment platform is separate from the companies’ self-driving car project, dubbed “Waymo.” That project involves deploying Google’s autonomous vehicle technology to a fleet of 100 Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

The hybrid concept system goes beyond Google’s Android Auto system released in 2015. Android Auto allows mobile devices running Android to operate in automobiles through the dashboard’s head unit.

The digital technology breakthrough may steer car makers away from non-open source in-car solutions, suggested Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“The computerization of automobiles has been progressing rapidly, but less clear has been the process through which automakers will embrace digital entertainment,” he told LinuxInsider. “Major players, particularly Apple, have been moving in that direction — but there have been suggestions that automakers would prefer to avoid highly proprietary technologies and platforms.”

Benevolent ProgressThe agreement between FCA and Google certainly supports the trend, King said, noting that Android offers a highly open and edible environment for building automobile entertainment systems.

“Plus, the platform’s maturity and growing popularity should help assure FCA that its Android investments will pay long-term dividends,” he added. “Overall, this should be a good deal for both companies and FCA customers, and could lead to other automakers adopting Android.”

The collaboration with Google helps both companies explore how in-vehicle infotainment and connectivity technologies continue to evolve. It also will help both companies meet consumers’ increasing desire for innovation of information with minimal distraction, noted Chris Barman, head of electrical engineering at FCA.

“With Android, we are able to maintain our unique and intuitive Uconnect user interface, all while integrating our easy-to-use systems with Android’s features and ecosystem of applications,” he said.

Further, the collaborative efforts support Google’s commitment to building Android as a turnkey automotive platform that integrates deeply with the vehicle in a safe and seamless way, noted Patrick Brady, director of Android engineering at Google.

“This collaboration with FCA brings together the industry standard for connected car systems with Android to create powerful infotainment systems designed for the digital age,” he said.


Mixed Reviews

The Android Auto-Uconnect integration may fall short of Earth-shattering, as it is powered by existing technology.

The innovation is based on an open source operating system that includes some proven apps. Android is based on Linux, arguably the most popular operating system in IoT because it is free and can be stripped back to limit resource consumption, observed Mike Pittenger, vice president of security strategy at Black Duck.

“A bigger deal would be using a commercial OS,” he told LinuxInsider, “but why would you ever pay for an OS in the Internet of Things?”

Still, merging Android with Uconnect suggests an expansion of the role of open source technology in the automotive industry.

Floating Speakers

Welcome, dear friends, to another incarnation of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that occasionally peels its eyes from Super Mario Run to cast its gaze over the latest gadget announcements.

In the Mushroom Kingdom this time around are a levitating speaker, a speaker to hang around your neck, and an adorable coffee machine.

As ever, these are not reviews. The ratings reflect only how much I’d like to try each item with my own hands, tired as they may be from tearing apart wrapping paper.


Phonically Flying

LG features twice in this edition of the column with two very different but similarly strange speakers. The “Levitating Portable Speaker” (pictured above) has as descriptive and accurate a name as the “Small Transparent Speaker” from last month’s edition of this column. You can call it “PJ9” if you prefer the duller moniker.

Yes, through the magic of electromagnets and a base station, this speaker will levitate and pump out audio in every direction. LG’s Dual Passive Radiator system is designed to provide strong high- and mid-range tones.

The base station houses the subwoofer, and naturally doubles as the charger for the floaty part of the set up. The Levitating Portable Speaker has a reported battery life of 10 hours, which is impressive, and the speaker automatically sinks back down to the base station to recharge when need be. You can play audio while the speaker’s charging, but it’ll lose a little in form if not function during that period.

The PJ9 is IPX7-compliant, which will help it stand up to a sudden downpour if you’re using it at a picnic, and there’s an option to connect two Bluetooth devices simultaneously via multipoint technology.

The feature set of the Levitating Portable Speaker shows it’s far more than just a party trick. As with any speaker, it’s difficult to ascertain exactly how much I might want this as part of my everyday life without hearing the audio firsthand. However, I admire the graceful design and would enjoy impressing a guest or two with my latest technology party trick.


Hanging Out to Dry

The other LG speaker we’re taking a look at this time around is the LG Tone Studio. This is even stranger than its stablemate and no doubt has raised some eyebrows at CES. This is no ordinary speaker, friends. This is one you wear around your neck.

This futuristic neckbrace employs four speakers to direct surround sound toward the wearer’s ears. It includes a vibration function, and it aims to provide theater-style sound wherever you might be. That’s all well and good if you watch a lot of movies at home, don’t mind looking silly, and don’t really have the capacity for a complex speaker system or a soundbar — or if you want to hear the movie’s audio just as well while you’re fixing some mid-film snacks or beverages.

However, I dread the day I ever run into someone using one of these on public transport. People playing music through their phone speaker on a bus or a subway deserve the type of punitive measures reserved for the worst war criminals. Boosting their capacity to annoy everyone with a quartet of speakers thumping out surround sound sounds exactly like the kind of future I want no part of.

Thanks, LG, for potentially ruining everything for everyone should certain people actually buy this trifling gizmo.


Captivating Brews

If you’re a manufacturer (or part of a manufacturer’s marketing department) and want to convince me to buy the thing you’re trying to sell, the simplest, easiest way to boost your chances is to plonk a pair of googly eyes on it and tell me it’s cute.

A pair of students went one further when they affixed a pair of arms to a coffee machine and allowed people to control the system using Alexa. One arm grabs and inserts a filter, while the other grabs some grounds to brew delicious java.

If you’re so inclined, you can ask this glorious creation to provide you with weather updates and any other information you might wish Alexa to deliver.

Glimpse of Autonomous

Modifications were made to several parts of the Pacifica — including its electrical, powertrain, chassis and structural systems — to optimize it for fully autonomous driving.

With the additional computer equipment, the cars will undergo more challenging tests. They will be subjected to a broader variety of traffic and weather conditions, as well as other variables, with the goal of being ready for introduction by 2017.

“Waymo chose the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, as its well-suited for Waymo’s self-driving systems,” said FCA spokesperson Berj M. Alexanian.

“As a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, the Pacifica Hybrid is fuel-efficient, which is important to Waymo,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Pacifica Hybrid offers a highly refined and comfortable ride experience. Using Pacifica Hybrid also gives Waymo a chance to test a different kind of passenger vehicle.


The Waymo Brand

The announcement comes just days after Waymo unveiled new branding and a new team of executives, amid increasing competition to bring autonomous vehicles to the U.S. market.

The joint program team has worked to integrate the self-driving computers and other systems into the Chrysler Pacifica minivans to get them ready for use, noted Waymo CEO John Krafcik. The work has included more than 200 hours of extreme-weather testing since the companies originally announced the partnership in June.

Waymo and Fiat Chrysler have co-located part of their engineering teams to a new facility in southeastern Michigan to speed development. The companies also have conducted extensive testing at FCA’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan, and the Arizona Proving Grounds in Yucca, Arizona, as well as Waymo’s test track in California.

FCA sells cars under the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram and SRT performance vehicle brands. The firm also distributes under the Alfa Romeo and Topar brands.


Improved Safety

The introduction of the fully equipped Pacifica minivan is a signal that Waymo may be focusing on autonomous vehicle technology as a means of making driving more efficient and safer for families, suggested Michael Harley, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

“This is something deep in the heart of what a family would purchase,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Waymo has emphasized its track record of operating test vehicles in a safe manner — Krafcik last week posted a copy of Google’s November self-driving report on Twitter.

During autonomous testing, 24 Lexus RX450 SUVs and 34 prototype vehicles navigated shared roads and successfully engaged in lane splitting — accommodating motorcyclists that bobbed and weaved, making multiple lane changes, the report shows.

The rollout of the Chrysler Pacifica minivans puts Google well ahead of its direct technology industry competitors in the race to get autonomous vehicles in the hands of the public, said Egil Juliussen, principal analyst for automotive technology at IHS Markit.

“Basically Google needs more vehicles to test,” he told TechNewsWorld. “They’ve advanced quite a lot.”

The testing of such a minivan offers Waymo a more flexible set of options when considering the kind of vehicles it wants to deploy when it makes its first commercial introduction of fully autonomous vehicles.

It may be a bit early in terms of pinning down the use case or an autonomous version of the Chrysler Pacifica, however, noted Steven Polzin, director of mobility policy research at the Center for Urban Transportation Research.

“This general direction would be consistent with the thinking of folks who are very nervous that automated vehicles will induce additional travel or have significant ’empty’ deadhead miles between trips,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“The way to mitigate that consequence is to use automation and logistics to aggregate trips — dynamic carpooling — to increase vehicle occupancy so as to offset the empty miles or induced demand miles,” he said.

The new of smartglasses

Qualcomm on Tuesday debuted its groundbreaking Snapdragon 835 system on a chip at CES.

Following the 835 launch, the company joined Osterhout Design Group in unveiling two new ODG augmented reality headsets, the R-8 and R-9, which are the first Snapdragon 835-powered devices to be announced.

The Snapdragon SoC is the first chip built using the ultra-advanced 10nm FinFET process node, said Qualcomm spokesperson Liz Sweeney.

The Snapdragon 835 is 35 percent smaller and consumes 25 percent less power than its predecessors, which “equates to longer battery life and thinner designs,” she told TechNewsWorld.

The SoC is “designed for advanced AR/VR capabilities, cutting-edge camera capabilities, and enables biometric security capabilities,” Sweeney noted.

A Game ChangerThe Snapdragon 835 opens the door to a whole new connected future. Qualcomm has teamed up with Ericsson and AT&T to drive widespread adoption of 5G.

“We are actively working with industry leaders around the world to test 5G and 5G NR technologies,” Sweeney said.

The Snapdragon 835 has an integrated Qualcomm X16 gigabit LTE modem, and “it’s possible for a premium-tier 800 series Snapdragon processor with integrated gigabit LTE modem to be used in 5G mobile devices,” she explained.

The Snapdragon 835 “represents a change in strategy for Qualcomm,” said Jim McGregor, a principal analyst at Tirias Research.

It’s “the first generation of chipsets resulting from a new collaboration with ARM,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The Kyro processor used in the 835 employs ARM cores optimized for Qualcomm rather than Qualcomm processor cores, which “will free up resources to optimize future Qualcomm-designed processors for other processors for other applications,” McGregor explained.

“That’s a game changer,” he said.


ODG’s AR/VR Headsets

To develop AR-enabled mobile computing and entertainment applications for the R-8 and R-9 smartglasses, ODG has teamed with 21st Century Fox, which is also an investor; cloud rendering company OTOY; and PTC, which provides the Vuforia AR platform.

The R-8 and R-9 “are self-contained fully loaded computers,” said Nima Shams, VP of headworn at ODG.

Strategy at CES

Nvidia offered a bold new strategy at this week’s International CES in Las Vegas. The company, which has been a leader in hardware graphics technology for decades, recently has expanded into the realms of artificial intelligence, deep learning and automotive tech.

Graphical support and video delivery will however remain a key component of the company’s strategy, according to Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang.

Nvidia’s GeForce NOW Service will expand to millions more PCs and Macs, he announced in his keynote address at CES.

Huang also launched a new version of Shield — Nvidia’s streamer technology. Shield is at the very center of Nvidia’s home AI strategy. It is the first third-party Android TV device to feature support for the hands-free Google Assistant, Huang said.

The open platform Shield will support 4K HDR casting via Nvidia GameStream, and allow gamers to access on-demand PC games, including Ubisoft’s catalog of AAA titles, as well as the vast library of new Android games.

Shield, which is optimized for TV, allows users to control various smart-enabled devices via voice commands. It is designed to learn and adapt to the user’s lifestyle.

Shield already allowed conversational searches. It now can respond to users’ voice requests to turn on or turn off lights, change TV channels, adjust the thermostat, and even call for an Uber.


Nvidia on the Road

The other half of Nvidia’s new wide-reaching technology strategy is built around BB8, the company’s in-development self-driving car, which is outfitted with the Drive PX 2 AI self-driving computer.

In a demo video, it negotiates stop lights, stop signs and intersections, and even makes its way to the freeway before handing control back to the human in the driver’s seat.