QNX is seemingly everywhere right now - if you know where to look. The ubiquitous yet largely unknown software can be found deep inside things from slot machines, to nuclear reactors. However, most of the attention and accolades that QNX has been getting over the past decade has been because of their work in the auto industry.
QNX has been around since 1982 but it wasn’t until they began working in automobiles in 2001 that they really started getting noticed. They caught the attention of Harman International Industries in 2004 and were acquired for $138 million. Around that time, Harman’s automotive division was its biggest business unit, and QNX was the key to help it grow further. Under Harman, QNX experienced rapid growth in the automotive industry. In 2010 Harman sold QNX to BlackBerry (RIM at the time) for $200 million. Harman’s reasons for doing so were vague (strategic effort to reach emerging markets, a strengthened relationship with RIM, etc.) but it was really Harman’s loss and BlackBerry’s gain on hindsight.
At this year’s CES just a couple weeks ago, QNX showed off their Maserati technology concept car and their new and improved Jeep Wrangler reference vehicle. These vehicles were fitted with sensors, cameras, navigation tools, cloud-based services, voice interfaces, LiDAR, ultrasonic sensors and much more, working together seamlessly. One of the more notable features of the Maserati was that it didn’t have any rear-view mirrors; instead, it utilized cameras and digital displays. The instrument cluster itself is a giant digital display as well. The Wrangler features an advanced driver assistance system that can detect road signs and lane departures.
These concept vehicles send a strong message to automotive manufacturers and consumers. QNX’s renowned simplicity and reliability makes it possible to have all these technologies and features in a single vehicle, and it opens the doors to more innovation in the automotive industry. Automotive manufacturers are now faced with a world of possibilities now that they know there is a system that can handle virtually anything they throw at it. The LiDAR and ultrasonic sensors alone demonstrate that self-driving cars can be a reality within the next few years.
Also at CES, it was announced that the number of cars worldwide that utilize QNX software has reached the 50 million mark, which is more than 50% market share. QNX is currently involved with more than 40 auto manufacturers, such as Audi, BMW, Chrysler, GM, Honda, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Toyota and Volkswagen, with new partnerships coming into the fold regularly. Ford just recently dropped a long-time partnership with Microsoft and chose QNX to power its Sync 3 infotainment system.
“QNX Software Systems is the clear leader in automotive software, specifically for infotainment, and is forecasted to remain the leader for years to come — growing from more than 16 million units in 2013 to 56 million in 2020,” said Egil Juliussen, director of research, infotainment and ADAS, IHS Automotive.
An interesting feature that QNX has also been working on is called Engine Sound Enhancement. What makes that interesting is that it is a solution to a problem that has developed as cars have increased in efficiency. A side effect of this efficiency is that they have also gotten quieter. Sure, quiet engines mean less noise pollution in cities and neighbourhoods and that’s fantastic, but there are downsides to quiet cars as well. For many people, a quieter car takes a lot of the thrill out of driving, especially for owners of high end performance cars. More importantly however, it can also be a safety issue. A quieter engine means it’ll be more difficult to notice irregular sounds that indicate mechanical problems. The EU determined last year that whisper-quiet electric cars are a danger to pedestrians, so it has been made mandatory for electric car manufacturers to utilize some sort of artificial engine noise generator in their vehicles. QNX has been working with auto manufacturers on synthetic engine sounds for over five years, but with this new EU legislation combined with the increasing interest in electric cars, it will likely become a bigger focus for the company.
A potential (and very exciting) feature made possible by QNX is having sensors on your car that collect road condition information for municipalities, so they are able to prioritize areas for repair and construction. This would mean the most troublesome potholes get fixed first and quickly. Such sensors could also be used in other machinery and equipment used by the public, such as elevators, escalators and automatic doors, to collect usage data and alert officials of any malfunctions. This is part of BlackBerry’s Internet of Things initiative called Project Ion. This is likely to be QNX’s largest area for growth outside of the auto industry.
So how has QNX affected the automotive industry? It really boils down to opening doors to possibility and innovation for auto makers, and safety and a better experience for consumers. Features that were once considered futuristic are now realistically only a couple years away if they aren’t already here. Instead of trying to improve accident survival rates, manufacturers will be able to implement safety features that focus on avoiding or preventing accidents entirely. Consumers will be able to enjoy an improved, and safer, driving experience as well as exciting new ways to enjoy devices they already own.
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