Flying around the world on solar power

Did you miss it? I missed it. And I really wanted to catch it. Earlier this month — while I was paying attention to gosh knows what — the Solar Impulse team unveiled the first solar-powered aircraft capable of flying around the world. It’s called Solar Impulse 2, and it will embark on its round-the-world tour in March 2015.

The Solar Impulse team thinks big, but they also think smart. For instance, they didn't try to build a globe-circling solar plane right off the bat. Instead, they took a stepwise approach and built a plane that could fly shorter hops — across a continent, for example. The lessons learned from building and flying that first plane, which successfully crossed Europe, Africa, and the US, helped the team develop Solar Impulse 2.

Not surprisingly, Solar Impulse 2 is larger than its predecessor. The wingspan has grown from about 64 meters to 72 meters, the weight from about 1600 kilos to 2300 kilos, and the number of voltaic cells from about 12000 to 17000. That’s a lot of batteries.

Mind you, the numbers tell only part of the story. The Solar Impulse 2 project also required the development of innovative materials and construction methods, including new electrolytes to boost the energy density of the voltaic cells.

This story isn’t just about technology. It’s also about human skill and endurance. For instance, to cross the Atlantic or Pacific ocean, the plane, which has a top speed of 90 km/h, will need to stay airborne for about 5 or 6 days. And that means the pilot will have to sit in an unheated, unpressurized cockpit for more than 120 hours in temperatures that could range from -40°C to +40°C. These guys aren’t just smart; they’re tough to boot.

Did I mention? QNX Software Systems is the official realtime OS partner for the Solar Impulse team, and the plane uses the QNX OS for several control and data communication functions. Which is, well, cool.

The plane is scheduled to launch in about 310 days. And this time, I’ll be paying attention. By the way, here's the part that I missed:

See previous posts on the Solar Impulse project.


Japan's high-tech innovations take on natural disasters

Guest post by my inimitable colleague Noko Kataoka.

Noko Kataoka
When I’m talking to my family in Japan, the conversation often turns to the weather. Not because we have nothing else to talk about, but because the weather is such a serious subject in their region. They experience heavy rainstorms in early summer (followed by scorching heat that lasts for over two months), ferocious typhoons in the fall, and blizzards in the winter that can drop up to 50 cm of snow overnight. Every time I hear a severe weather report I need to call my family and make sure they’re okay.

And, of course, Japan is known for its earthquakes. The country is still working to recover from the “311” (March 11, 2011) disaster, one of the worst earthquakes and tsunamis in history, which killed more than 18,000 people. The country has had to put a lot of thought into how more lives could be saved when Mother Nature chooses to strike again.

Logo of the
Saigai Taisaku Expo
The good news is, Japanese people are very good at advancing technology to address their unique environment. Government agencies and businesses work together on innovative ways to respond to environmental challenges. The country even has tradeshows dedicated to technologies for coping with natural disasters. For instance, the Saigai Taisaku Expo (Disaster Response Expo) showcased many ingenious solutions this year — from highly sophisticated portable toilets for evacuation camps to smartphone apps for earthquake warnings. Here are some solutions that I found interesting:

  • An unmanned airplane for establishing radio communications in isolated communities that have suffered infrastructure damage.
  • A helmet loaded with a head-lamp, radio, earthquake sensor, and wireless communications unit. The helmet not only protects you from physical shocks but also sends emergency messages for safety confirmation, evacuation guidance, and more.
  • An earthquake estimator that uses earthquake forecast information issued by the Japan meteorological agency to estimate the magnitude of an imminent quake and how long before the shock hits. It can be integrated with public broadcasting systems or digital signage to guide people to safety.
  • A smartphone navigation app especially designed for natural disaster situations. Using information from GPS and camera, the app displays directions for designated evacuation areas.
  • An unmanned 3D radar system for estimating damage to buildings. Okay, your building is still standing after a big earthquake — but how do you know if it’s safe to go in?
  • A public information system that consolidates and manages big data collected by the crisis management information center. In the state of emergency, people can access to emergency-response information they need from their mobile devices.
It is particularly interesting to see how new innovations are made possible by technologies such as smartphones and cloud connectivity. We have little immediate influence on how Mother Nature behaves, but people can engineer solutions to help survive natural disasters. And with global climate change causing unexpected weather across the planet, Japan’s innovations in connected systems for environmental challenges may prove useful in other parts of the world, too.


I so need one of these!

You can work hard. You can work smart. Here's a robot vacuum that does both. It's called the Neato BotVac, and it uses laser technology to scan and map a room before cleaning it. Now, that's pretty cool.

Did I mention? It runs on the QNX OS.

Learn more about the Neato BotVac series of robot vacuums on the Neato website.


QNX drives home (quietly) with embedded award

QNX Acoustics for ANC eliminates the need
for costly dedicated ANC hardware.
Every year, the organizers of the Embedded World conference hold the embedded AWARDs to recognize the most innovative software, hardware, and tools for embedded developers. And this year, they selected QNX Acoustics for Active Noise Control, the new QNX solution for eliminating engine "boom" noise in cars, as the winner in the software category.

This marks the third time that QNX Software Systems has taken home an embedded AWARD. The company also won in 2004 for power management technology and in 2006 for its multicore tools and OS — and in 2010, it nabbed a finalist spot for its persistent publish/subscribe messaging. That's a lot of plaques.

So why did QNX Acoustics for ANC get the blue ribbon treatment? I can't speak on behalf of the Embedded World judges, but check out this overview I wrote a few months ago. Or better yet, read this deeper dive from my colleague Tina Jeffrey.

Or skip the middle man entirely and check out the product page, which does a nice job of summarizing what QNX Acoustics for ANC is all about.

A version of this post appeared on the QNX auto blog.

Oscar-winning Flying-Cam system takes to the skies with QNX technology

Flying-Cam has been at
the forefront of unmanned
aerial filming since 1988.
Ever wonder how film crews manage to achieve death-defying camera angles that take your breath away? Well, wonder no more, because I am about to show you one of the most advanced tools of the trade. It's called SARAH, it runs on the QNX OS, and it recently won a Scientific and Technical Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its contribution to movie making.

The SARAH unmanned aerial system is the brainchild of Flying-Cam, a company founded in 1988 by Emmanuel PrĂ©vinaire, who, in 1979, developed the first unmanned close-range aerial camera for motion pictures. SARAH represents the latest generation of Flying-Cam technology and has been in service since 2012 — yet its credits already include Skyfall, Oblivion, Prisoners, Smurfs II, and Mr. Go.

The Flying-Cam SARAH unmanned aerial system in action, filming a scene for Mr. Go. 

So why did the folks at Flying-Cam choose the QNX OS? Several factors contributed to the decision, including flexible architecture, predictable response times, and advanced profiling tools. To quote Tony Postiau, head of aerial robotics engineering at Flying-Cam, "we have been thoroughly impressed with the QNX OS. It works extremely well on our hardware and uses system resources efficiently, leaving most of the hardware processing power available to our application — a crucial attribute that we looked for.”

To find out more about QNX and the Flying-Cam SARAH system, check out the press release that QNX issued this morning.

And for a look at SARAH in action, here's a promotional video that demonstrates how it helps film crews capture angles that would be impossible for full-size helicopters, cable systems, or other traditional camera support devices:

New release of QNX OS closes UX gap between smartphones and embedded systems

Okay, this one is going to be short. I'd love to have you stay, but I'd like it even more if you jumped to the QNX website. Because if you do, you'll get the full skinny on a significant new OS release that QNX Software Systems announced this morning.

But before you go, the back story. Mobile devices (think smartphones) have transformed what people expect of embedded systems (think gas pumps, vending machines, heart monitors, or just about any other device with a user interface). Every time someone uses a smartphone or tablet, they become more conditioned to the user experience it delivers. And the more conditioned they become, they more they expect a similar experience in other systems they use. It's human nature, plain and simple.

People who create embedded devices get this. They know that, to succeed, they must up their UX game. The problem is, a gap has existed between the user experiences that embedded operating systems can support and the user experiences that people want. The latest generation of the QNX Neutrino OS, version 6.6, addresses that gap. And it does so by introducing a new and potent mix of graphics, security, multimedia, security, and power management capabilities.

And just what are those capabilities? You'll have to jump to the press release to find out. :-)

The QNX SDK for Apps & Media — one of many significant new features
in the latest release of the QNX OS.


QNX at Embedded World: three distinct systems, one OS platform

A whole new way to
take QNX out for a spin.
Quick: what do washing machines, bulldozers, and pipeline inspection tools have in common? Simple: they all demonstrate the remarkable flexibility of the QNX OS.

Next week, at Embedded World, QNX will showcase three systems built by three different customers, for three different markets. Each system addresses different technical challenges and targets different end-users. And yet, in each case, the development team behind the system chose the same OS — a testament to the “bend it, shape it, any way you want it” quality of QNX technology.

Of course, not everyone can attend Embedded World. So for anyone who can’t go (or for anyone who plans to go and would like a taste of what they’ll see), here’s a sneak peek of the three systems. Mind you, this isn’t everything we will demonstrate next week — but that’s the subject of another post. :-)

Washing machine touchscreen from Dalian Eastern Display
Imagine a web-connected washing machine that can play your favorite music and videos, provide tips on removing stains, and let you choose laundry settings with the tap of a touchscreen. The system from Dalian Eastern Display lets you do all this and more, and it’s one of many solutions that Dalian is creating for IoT smart appliances.

For instance, this screen lets you quickly choose your fabrics, including cotton, wool, or polyester. It also provides a mixed setting — handy for people who aren’t sure of the difference. Me, for instance.

Once you’ve chosen the right fabric, you can fine-tune the parameters of your wash cycle, including time, temperature, speed, and water level:

Meanwhile, this menu lets you configure everything from your network connection to the system’s sound settings:

Murphy PowerView 780 display for heavy machinery
If you build equipment that has an engine and demands a rugged display, chances are its owners and operators will benefit from a Murphy PowerView 780. Designed for use with electronic or mechanical engines in everything from boats to bulldozers, the PowerView 780 integrates engine, transmission, and diagnostic information into an easy-to-read user interface. The PowerView 780 is built for extreme outdoor environments and features a 7-inch bonded LCD that is readable in direct sunlight. Better yet, it’s easily configurable to application needs. Using Murphy’s PowerVision Configuration Studio™, developers can customize the user interface with their own graphics or display parameters, track maintenance schedules, log operation data and faults, and add OEM branding.

Murphy, the company behind the PowerView 780, is a global supplier of controls and instrumentation for almost any application that involves engines or engine-driven equipment. The company is celebrating 75 years of serving the oil and gas production, engine OEM, construction, irrigation, agriculture, power generation, and work and pleasure boating markets.

LineExporer pipeline inspection system from NDT Global
When it comes to oil and gas pipelines, safety is job one. But to ensure safety, you need to keep pipelines properly maintained — and to maintain them, you need accurate and reliable inline inspection tools. That's where NDT Global comes in. NDT is a leading supplier of ultrasonic pipeline inspection and pipeline integrity management services worldwide, with operations in Germany, Russia, the US, Canada, Mexico, U.A.E., Malaysia and Singapore. At Embedded World, QNX Software Systems will showcase an NDT LineExplorer inline inspection tool for 10" pipelines that can detect and measure corrosion and cracks, depending on the sensor carrier.

For more information on QNX at Embedded World, visit the QNX website.