Tuesday, November 3, 2009

15 Minutes . . . ok maybe 15 seconds

Today marks the official launch of the NG Connect project I have been involved in.  If you don't blink, you can catch me in the launch video: http://www.ngconnect.org/ecosystem/cc_video.html


Learn something new every day

I just had one of those moments where I questioned my intelligence or at least my skill of observation.

I have been a traveler for business for nearly 20 years and for most of my career I have been in automotive yet I only just learned something new about cars that you might find funny.  For sure this knowledge would have been useful these many years. 

Before getting to this new gem, let me quickly describe my typical car rental return: 
  • I am usually late for a flight
  • I did not select the "pre pay fuel" option
  • I usually know where a nearby gas station is
  • I almost always pull into a gas station with my car door open and my neck straining to see which side of the car the fuel tank access is on
  • I pick wrong about 30% of the time. . . which usually means turning the car around
Please tell me I am not the only one that can't figure out which side of the car to offer up to the fuel pump?  Please?

Dan Brown would scoff and my inability to recognize the symbolism on the typical fuel guage in the typical car. (see below)

When did car manufacturers add in that little arrow?  Why wasn't it highlighted in drivers ed?  Why have I missed it all of these years?  Wow!  I feel really dumb.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

GenIVI – “Generally Expected Not for In Vehicle Infotainment”

Last week at the Intel Developer’s Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, Intel CEO, Paul Otellini announced in his keynote that Intel’s Atom processor would be used in upcoming 2012 Model Year BMW and Daimler vehicles. The OS to be used? QNX Neutrino RTOS. What I find interesting is:

So at the end of the day team GenIVI didn’t give itself the win in stacked competition? You have to wonder why that might have been? Perhaps we should look to Linus Torvalds’ recent commentary at LinuxCon where he stated that the Linux kernel has become "huge and scary" and that it isn't "the streamlined, hyper-efficient kernel I envisioned when I started writing Linux."

Perhaps GenIVI should consider its OS strategy. . . QNX might be a good choice

Monday, September 28, 2009

A twittering toilet “flushed” my patent idea

During a recent automotive brainstorming session, I realized that automotive companies were really interested in the phenomenon that is social networking, but most of them were viewing the automobile as a renderer of content relating to social networking. That gave me an idea. What if the car, or any device for that matter, could be an active participant in a driver’s social network? Why wouldn’t we want to enable any device to be a “friend” and contributor?

After that “ah ha” moment I decided to create a patent application and pitch it to my management team. They agreed it sounded like a great idea (in fact one quote from our senior management was “well if I don’t understand it, it must be a good idea”) and asked our legal department to start the process for patent application. Well wouldn’t you know that they very next day my news feed produced the following headline: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/08/twittering-toaster/

Not the use case I envisioned but prior art none-the-less. =(

I thought I would share my patent summary anyway:

Descriptive Summary:
With advancements in ubiquitous connectivity and computing power devices are now capable of “knowledge” of location, environment (site, sound and touch), etc. This invention describes leveraging this data to allow for a device to be an active participant in social networking as an artificially intelligent being capable of independent contributions.

While this invention applies to a variety of devices specifically I will focus on the implementation and use cases enabled in an automotive environment. This invention will enable a vehicle to become an active, artificially intelligent participant in social networking and communication. With the computing power and location aware sensors now being deployed in telematics, navigation, infotainment etc. coupled with ubiquitous connectivity to portable devices, between modules in the car, to infrastructure and to the internet, vehicles have the technology necessary to proactively communicate to owners and “friends” in a sentient way. An example of this would be the active participation of a blog or twitter account populated directly from the vehicle. Pre-programmed functions could be coupled with location and vehicle data to populate status updates, pictures and blogs. Take for instance the following example: Tom drives 40 miles to work each day, on average he exceeds the speed limit by 7 miles per hour. The vehicle could take information about route, speed, fuel economy and individual driver to populate content on a blog: “Tom drives me every day and if he would only drive me 4 miles per hour slower and take the express way more often he would save 4 gallons of gas per week. Based on the pricing from his favorite gas station that would be over $500 / year he could save.” Another example could be Andrew who takes his Jeep 4x4 driving. The Jeep could specifically post where they went and even upload pictures from an external camera (already included for lane departure warnings). The Jeep could even post what music was being played in the car during the drive possibly even uploading a small snippet from the internal microphone (already in the car for Handsfree communication) to complete the experience.

In each of these examples the vehicle could round out the updates to a owners life experiences with their vehicle building brand loyalty as well as enhancing safety. The vehicle could report “tweets” to traffic information to keep a drivers hands on the wheel. It could even read others posts / tweets relating to current location information.

Another example would be the vehicle posting to its owners facebook that it misses her driving. For example: “I miss you driving me Amanda, Tom only takes me back and forth to work with no new things to see”. Or to communicate specific information. Ex: Andrew, I wanted to let you know I found a problem and couldn’t figure it out on my own so I sent the information to the dealership and they will likely be in contact with you to help us figure it out.

All of the examples of capabilities exist in a vehicle today, the unique invention is the use of a device or vehicle as an active participant in collating and communicating information and experiences independently without specific interaction from the owner / end user.

The automotive market typically has been stagnant in the total number of vehicles sold / year. (an exception being this past year). In such a market to increase market share means to keep existing customers loyal to your brand and attract customers of your competitors to your models. This invention helps to aid in the personalization and connection established between a driver and “my car”. Additionally, by enabling tight interaction between a vehicle and its owner’s life / networks / friends / environment, it makes it difficult to decouple that connection in a parting. Just like a relationship it is difficult to “break up” so when it is time to purchase a new vehicle many of the settings and interactions can be transferred from one car to another of the same brand.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Context aware displays – “Can you see me now”

I was just reading an article in the Economist describing “the connected car” http://www.economist.com/sciencetechnology/tq/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13725743. One point in the article got me thinking. Specifically, it mentioned a modern car having as many as 200 on board sensors or microprocessors “measuring everything from tire pressure to windscreen temperature”.

Modern vehicles now are gathering so much information and have access to not only data relating to the car, but to location, speed, points of interest, music, traffic, . . . the problem suddenly becomes how to communicate this information to the driver in a relevant and safe way. This emphasizes the recent explosion of automotive interest in digital displays that can reconfigure information being portrayed based on context, or what you are doing at the time. An example of the most advanced display of this type can be found in the recent announcement by QNX and Visteon about their work on the 2010 Range Rover cluster “...the largest TFT LCD ever to ship in a vehicle”. You can read more about it here: http://news.prnewswire.com/ViewContent.aspx?ACCT=109&STORY=/www/story/08-04-2009/0005071387&EDATE=

Basically, information can now be configured to display what is relevant to the driver at a given time. For example, when the car is put into reverse, rather than display tachometer information, a rear backup camera can display the image of what is behind the car, or perhaps when the Range Rover is in 4x4 mode information about the terrain can be displayed. Additionally, vehicles with new fuel technologies have all new types of information that can be displayed relating to fuel savings, best route to conserve battery, all kinds of “green” information that can be displayed. I can promise you the new Volt will have a digital display.

Another revolution is driving the adoption of these brilliant displays in vehicles. The revolution of a joyful user experience, arguably started by Apple (iphones, ipods, macs, etc.), is making its way into your automobile. Apple didn’t create the first MP3 player, heck I had an RCA Lyra in the early 1990s. What Apple did was make experiencing digital music easy and “joyful” oh and legal of course. The iphone took this a step further and made complicated information relevant to location, interests, search, social networking, photography, etc. also easy and pleasurable to experience.

Major vehicle brands have taken note. Not only will you be able to get access to a variety of information, when you need it, but also you will see vehicle brands embracing the latest user interface technologies to capture a bit of the magic that comes from making an experience visually pleasing and easy to use. These new reconfigurable displays will do just that. So get ready, your speedometer is about ready to get a major facelift.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

“Say, Say, Say” it’s not so,. . . Michael Jackson is "Gone Too Soon"!

You know the media will now take the situation and "Beat It" to death. . . they just "Don't Stop Until You Get Enough". If you are frustrated by all of the coverage, "You are not alone". Personally, I think it is "Bad" also. I know many "Wanna be startin somethin" and post a flame or blog about it, and that is just "Human Nature", but perhaps you should look at "The Man in the Mirror" and try to find a way to "Heal the World" without all of the dramatic flair.

Not that I think any of us should keep it "in the closet", but a negative post is "Dangerous" and makes some people want to "Scream". Instead, take a nostalgic trip to the past. . ."Remember the Time" you drove in your car listening to a Michael Jackson “Jam”? Or when you were out searching for a "P.Y.T", perhaps named "Dirty Dianna", or "Billie Jean".

Don’t remember Michael in terms of "Black or White", or even about him being the “Smooth Criminal” that he was, but instead, think, if you could see him right now, what would inspire you to say "you rock my world". Focus on his aspects of being a "Thriller" and entertainer. After all, the one thing he for sure taught us was that, together, "We are the World".

Sorry. . . had to do it. When I started this blog I made the obscure reference to zombies as well as automobiles being discussed on this blog. Well, if I could think of a critical memory of my first car ever it was driving my AMC Javelin (automotive), listing to Thriller (zombies) with my Carver tape deck. This post is to pay my respects to that memory, and heck it's my blog. . . it doesn't have to be always strictly automotive. =)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Wintel" changes its meaning

In case you missed the news, on June 4th, Intel purchased the embedded Operating System company, Wind River. You can read the press release here:


Having worked in the embedded market since the early 90s it is interesting to see the evolution from the tight Intel and Microsoft coupling, once sarcastically referred to as "Wintel", deteriorate to to the point that perhaps the new slang should be Lintel (as there is little doubt that Intel's acquisition was for the Linux part of Wind River).

With speculation that Windows 7 may get ported to the ARM architecture and Intel grasping at the handset and mobile markets with Linux, the marriage between Microsoft and Intel seems to be near to an end. Interestingly, the day before the Intel purchase, a Microsoft spokesperson had this to say about the rumors of a Windows 7 ARM port:

“At this time, Windows 7 does not support any ARM architecture. Currently, Windows works on both x86 and x64 platforms, which, thanks to the pervasive PC hardware standard, power the vast majority of the world’s laptops and desktops. In the specialized devices space, where ARM is well suited, we offer the Windows Embedded CE platform.”

Notice the key phrase "at this time". I, for one, hope Windows 7 comes to ARM as I would like to finally see some real battery life out of full featured Microsoft based laptop.

I once joked with my nerdy friends that "10 years ago would you have thought that Apple would run a PC (X86) Architecture (instead of Power Architecture / PPC) and Microsoft would run PPC (like they do in the XBOX 360)." Perhaps the relationship was changing as far back as 6 or 7 years ago when those decisions were made. Being involved in the original Xbox concept with AMD and bearing witness to Intel's power with Microsoft back then really makes the situation shocking.

So, what is my opinion of the Intel acquisition? It may help Intel build some credibility in the handset space for their first *almost* capable part, the Intel ATOM, particularly given the involvement in Android by Wind River. Also, I think Android will start to be an operating environment that will directly challenge the traditional OS model that is the mainstay of Microsoft. So battle lines may in fact be being drawn around these new class of netbooks, perhaps looking something like Microsoft and ARM vs Intel and Google.

As for the embedded market: I think the real winners in Intel's acquisition will be the other embedded Linux vendors, like Montavista, and Real Time OSes, like QNX. Fear of limited support for other hardware may send Wind River customers en mass to alternatives and ARM licensees (TI, NEC, ST, Freescale, etc.) will be looking for new partners.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My letter to President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I have a proposal to save the government, and therefore the US taxpayer (me), billions of dollars per year in both real, physical infrastructure spending as well as billions more related to the economic burden of congestion. Here’s how:

In the recent “Autopocalypse” unfolding, the US taxpayer has pumped over $15 billion into General Motors. While I am no bankruptcy expert, if GM seeks protection, as seems likely, I believe the taxpayer will see minimal, if any, return on that investment. GM is sitting on a HUGE asset to the public good, namely Onstar. GM has shipped over 16 million vehicles equipped with Onstar and is likely to ship 3 million more this year alone.

Onstar can collect data relating to average speed, weather conditions, incident reports and many other useful bits of data that today the federal and state governments spend billions to duplicate and disseminate to the public (road sensors, traffic monitors, cameras etc.). Due to cost, this information is only captured for the major metropolitan areas and is often an aggregation of sensors, 911 incident data, etc. By the time the DOT, and public sector aggregators transmit that data, it is often out of date. With over 16 million Onstar “probes” on the road today much of this information could be gathered in real-time without added infrastructure costs.

My proposal is to negotiate a non-exclusive right for the government to gain access to information from Onstar, in an obfuscated way, relating to speed, weather (wind shield wipers on / off, etc.), crash, etc. That information could replace physical infrastructure spend on street sensors, cameras, etc. Additionally, it could provide more current real-time traffic, weather, etc. data that both the public and the private sectors could aggregate (like they do now from the DOT) and disseminate to consumers in a way that would reduce commute times and accidents.

The NHTSA estimated “The 2000 economic costs of U.S. highway crashes, excluding the cost imposed on society by travel delays and wage-risk premiums, was $205 billion (Blincoe et al., 2002)”. Having data from Onstar could help reduce accidents, and therefore costs, related to traffic, but perhaps more importantly direct costs related to congestion. Some studies suggest congestion costs as much as $222 billion dollars / year (see: http://www.vtpi.org/tca/).

I think licensing this specific content would not decrease viability of GM, Onstar or any company trying to purchase Onstar assets as Onstar does not currently leverage this data.

So in summary, before allowing GM to sell off Onstar assets or loose this critical opportunity to leverage the money the taxpayer has already spent with GM, please consider my proposal:

· License GM / Onstar sensor / “probe” data (current and future) in an obfuscated way (to protect privacy concerns) – You don’t have to have the IT in place to use it yet, just negotiate the license!
· Save physical infrastructure costs related to congestion information for the taxpayer
· Gain more real-time information related to road conditions, congestion, incidents, weather than ever before
· Leverage the investment made in GM and Onstar by the US taxpayer
· Act quickly before this valuable asset is removed from access.

Thank you for your consideration.

Warmest Regards,

Andrew Poliak

P.S. I think this is a political “freebee” as I can’t think of a constituent you would be disappointing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The New (Software) Tier 1

With regard to the automotive supply chain, what do you think of Microsoft, BSquare, Elektrobit, Apple, Google, and QNX? Traditionally, you would call these companies Tier 2 suppliers, meaning they supply services, support and technologies to the traditional Tier 1 suppliers — the Delphi, Visteon, Denso, Continental, etc’s of the world. Unless you have been living under a body control system (I didn’t think rock was appropriate), it should be very obvious that the interior electronic automotive supply chain is changing dramatically.

Take, for instance the role of Microsoft, Elektrobit, and Ford in the Sync project. Microsoft and Elektrobit really were the Tier 1 suppliers to Ford. For the next iteration it appears that Bsquare is the new Elektrobit in the mix. The “traditional” Tier 1 was quickly relegated to a contract manufacturer with a very small margin. Rumor has it that the Tier 1 could get bypassed altogether in future versions of Sync. According to this press release from Bsquare (http://www.bsquare.com/about/story.asp?PressID=507) “It used to be that auto makers went to companies like Continental, Delphi and Panasonics and ordered a component with a list of capabilities. "And a black box came back that fit in the dash," Crowley said. "Ford said, 'I'm going to break that cycle. I'm going to do this all myself.'"

What impact does this have to the industry in general? This new software tier 1 model has the potential to be challenging for traditional Tier1s, but also to OEMs given the automotive / economic doom and gloom. Why, you ask? Well obviously this new scenario may well impact traditional Tier 1s since now they are competing with the Flextronics of the world.

But for OEMs, at a time when cash conservation is critical, they are now paying for software up front rather than amortizing the software costs (Engineering, Tools, etc.) over a Tier 1’s piece price. Also, they no longer have such a strong buffer and share of risk for liability, warranty, indemnity (especially in the case of Linux investment), etc..

So what should be done? First, some misconceptions must be addressed. Tier 1 suppliers are, at heart, integrators and buffers for warranty, liability, etc. They are skilled not only in automotive lingo, but in the tough requirements and long term supply of the automotive market. I believe the complexity and cost of integration, version control, maintenance, updates, licensing, etc. are often under valued by car companies. As a result of this, IMHO, the new model of the software Tier 1 will have some growing pains before it matures. That being said, traditional Tier 1s need to embrace a more software-oriented skill set. Also, in the current economy, the temptation is to try to get more money up front from the OEMs. If your business can afford it, resist that urge and use it as a differentiator against this trend.

For OEMs, perhaps holding off a bit on the new world of Linux, Software Tier 1s and upfront investment (by you and your suppliers) in software is in order — at least until the economic situation improves. Let the early adopters of this strategy prove out the model (and risk) before wading in. It will allow you to manage cash in this critical time and keep your suppliers healthy. You know often they don’t just provide infotainment — you depend on them for quite a bit more.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Green is the new black . . . or at least the new strategy to get into the black

Recently a car company mentioned to me that every ounce of current draw in an electric vehicle is essentially "gas" and between the US Governments new focus (and stimulus) on alternative energy sources / improved mileage and potential car buyers still feeling the recent pain of $4 / gallon gas, the entire automotive supply chain is positioning, (or repositioning), themselves around “green” technology campaigns.

Take for example the recent announcements from Bose and Harman Becker around energy efficient audio and infotainment systems:

Bose Energy Efficient Series Automotive Sound System - “30% smaller, 40% lighter, 50% less energy . . .”

Harman Kardon® GreenEdgeTM based audio and infotainment systems – “meeting the needs of energy-conscious customers without compromising performance”

Not just tier 1 suppliers are promoting Green, but also traditional and upstart car manufacturers and even their respective governments. It is interesting to note that the leader of one of the world’s largest economies, California’s Governator, was not only at CeBit pitching Californian companies, but will be the Keynote speaker at the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) World Congress this April. Outside of promoting his legislative track record, such as his Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 or his Hydrogen Highway and Million Solar Roofs Plan, I think Governor Schwarzenegger’s real agenda has the state economy in mind. California has the largest concentration of electric vehicle startups in the US and includes such well known names as Tesla, Fisker, Zap, Aptera (see video of my coworker beating on an Aptera car), etc. The theme to this years’ SAE World Congress: "Racing to Green Mobility"

Kerry smashing an Aptera EV

With the automotive industry currently experiencing the Autopocalypse (TM – ME) I believe the automotive supply chain is leveraging “Green” to get near term R&D and stimulus dollars while at the same time investing in innovation in order be on the leading wave of the recovery. My guess is that The Governator is the front man in California’s automotive strategy, positioning California as only he can:

California - “We’ll be Baak”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

CeBit 2009 - Infotainment Comparison

Wow! CeBit exhibition was down almost 30% from last year and nearly 50% from its peak. And, though I heard official numbers put attendance down only 20% from last year, it seemed to me more like 50%. With the number of backpacks that seemed to emerge on Thursday and Friday, I wonder if attendance was inflated with students.

All of that being said, automotive was well represented with booths and / or attendance by GM, Audi, VW, BMW, PSA and others. Tier 1s, Continental and Harman Becker, each had demonstration systems . . . with the HBAS system far more responsive and impressive (see video comparison)

I would have compared the GenIVI Linux based solution, but as you can see from the HBAS video, Intel is still pushing the QNX based demonstrations as the Linux system doesn't yet exist. ;)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When a license is the "single point of failure"

Last week, at CeBit, I had the opportunity to witness the launch of the GenIVI consortium. Graham Smethurst, of BMW, did an excellent job summarizing the challenges facing automotive OEMs and Tier 1s that led to the creation of GenIVI. The theory is that you can plug-in any conforming middleware (speech rec, navigation engine, etc.) into the GenIVI framework. The ultimate goal of GenIVI being to create standard interfaces to reusable modules. I walked away struggling with only one point: his contention that everything in GenIVI was created to remove any "single point of failure".

The reason I struggled with this point was because of the use of a single OS, Linux, for GenIVI. While there might be many distributions of Linux they all share one thing in common the GNU Public License (GPL). If Linux is the only OS for GenIVI, then it stands to reason that GPL then becomes THE single point of failure. (see my thoughts on GPL in automotive)

If it were me, I would have built GenIVI on an industry standard API like POSIX rather than a specific OS. In this way even the OS licensing could be varietal (GPL, LGPL, BSD, etc.)