Canada's QNX Software Systems wants to turn your car into the ultimate mobile device, complete with apps, infotainment, access to all your media and - of course - control of the car itself. To show how this concept might take shape, QNX put together a reference vehicle to demonstrate its "CAR 2" platform at the recent Telematics Detroit Conference.

With CAR 2 installed in the reference vehicle - a Jeep Wrangler Sahara - QNX showed how everything behind the vehicle display is connected to a unified software platform. The instrument cluster behind the wheel is software-based and "can reconfigure itself on the fly to display various types of information," says QNX's Paul Leroux.

CAR 2 also underlies everything running on the head unit in the center of the dash, which is where things really get interesting.

This is where you can use touch or voice commands to play music and other media, use navigation, search for parking, weather reports and post to Facebook. There's even an app called Virtual Mechanic to easily check in on the status of your vehicle's different systems.

There's a familiar app tray at the heart of CAR 2 that serves as a launcher for functions like streaming radio from Pandora, one-touch Bluetooth pairing and other infotainment and telematics function available now or in the future, thanks to Firmware-Over-The-Air (FOTA) software updates that can keep the vehicle's system up to date.

View of the CAR 2 app tray

Carmakers have struggled in the past decade to keep up with the pace of development in the personal technology space, particularly that of mobile devices, which consumers typically upgrade every few years, whereas new car purchases are typically spaced several years apart. CAR 2 is QNX's attempt to address that gap by installing a system that can be updated easily in the same way that mobile apps and operating systems currently update over the air through "pushed" or manual upgrades.

At the Telematics conference in Detroit where QNX showed off its new reference vehicle, the company made a point of emphasizing the system's ability to be easily customized and skinned using HTML5.

“We created the reference vehicle for three reasons: to show how automakers can create a custom look-and-feel for multiple vehicle lines from a single, cost-effective code base; to show how drivers can easily re-skin the dashboard to suit their personal tastes and interests; and to show how application developers can create apps that adopt the vehicle’s look and feel,” said Andy Gryc, automotive product marketing manager, QNX Software Systems.

To average consumers, having a pretty color scheme or design on the head unit display might not seem like a very big deal, but to car manufacturers, it's a must-have feature. Because consumers don't buy a new car every year, or even every several years, competition for customers is fierce, and automakers are constantly looking for ways to differentiate their newest models and perhaps win over some drivers on the little things, like the coolest looking digital displays.

Two different skins for the instrument cluster

QNX CAR 2 and its HTML5-based skins and customization options are meant to provide an easy and inexpensive way for carmakers to not only set themselves apart from their competition, but to distinguish each model in its product line. After all, the driver of a brand new Lincoln might be a bit disappointed to find that his instrument cluster looks identical to the one behind the wheel of a Ford Focus.

The CAR 2 reference vehicle also sports a few other glimpses into the future of connected auto travel, including tablet-based rear-seat entertainment, text-to-speech and natural speech recognition, making it easy to post a status update while keeping your hands at 10 and 2.

You can see how the CAR 2 reference car came together in the video below.

Source: QNX