CES 2014: QNX will make your car quieter -- or louder, if you're into that


As the revolution of the connected car advances, QNX is looking pretty smart -- if you’ll excuse the pun. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

As the revolution of the connected car advances, QNX is looking pretty smart -- if you’ll excuse the pun.

The company, which is owned by BlackBerry has been putting advanced tech into cars for years and counts OnStar among its clients. Now, as the automotive part of International CES has expanded, raising the annual tech conference’s profile in the automotive industry, the software firm is moving ahead, as well.

Grant Courville, director of product management for QNX Software Systems, said that a lot has evolved in the car tech space over the past few years, giving his firm a chance to fine-tune some of those advances.

For example, Courville said, new engine technology has changed the way that a car sounds in the cabin. Switching into “eco mode” on some cars may help with gas mileage, he said, but it also often creates a low, droning buzz in the cabin as the car freezes a cylinder. QNX helps car companies design a counteracting noise to cancel out the annoying hum, based on the individual car and factors such as whether it has cloth or leather seats.

On the other hand, drivers who buy high-end cars may miss the old roaring engine noises that have disappeared since the advent of efficiency improvements and better cabin construction. So, QNX is making engine soundtracks -- enhancements to the engine noise you already have -- to give drivers that old sports car vrooom!

Of course, the QNX booth also featured its own far-out ideas for the future of the automobile.

The main attraction for gearheads was the Mercedes CLA45 concept car, which features an enormous touchscreen dashboard with access to music, maps and other apps for easy navigation. Drivers can also navigate using buttons on the steering wheel or a knob in the center console, if they don’t want to swipe and drive. Other features include the ability to make high-quality phone calls from behind the wheel using voice control -- even between vehicles.

How much of this stuff are we going to see in everyday vehicles? That’s for the automakers to answer, Courville said. QNX leaves a lot of design decisions up to individual manufacturers, who may have their own ideas about graphic design or their own deals with digital map companies for GPS features. So QNX has built its system to work with Android, HTML5 and other kinds of applications to give automakers and consumers a lot of leeway in choosing what they want in their cars.

And there’s more choice on the horizon -- the connected car market is getting crowded, particularly after Google and Audi announced a partnership to put Android systems in cars. Apple has also announced features to link devices to cars to control features such as music and calling.

In other words, this platform war is just getting started.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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