Pat Shelly is senior solutions architect at Qt Company, a Finnish UX developer whose clients include Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot. Paul Fisher spoke to him about developments in automotive information systems, and the impact of autonomous vehicles.

0-6

Pat Shelly, senior solutions architect, Qt Company
 
Paul Fisher: OEMs have struggled to build multimedia cockpit displays themselves. Now, they’re bringing in digital specialists like Qt to help. Why the change?
 
Pat Shelly: GM and Ford once had their own parts and services divisions but in the 1990s those were spun off and became Visteon and DelphiThere was a rush in the 90s to get rid of internal development and commoditise components, but in the last five years there has been a reversal.
 
The main driver now is passenger safety and the growth of semi-autonomous driving technology. OEMs are bringing in-house anything related to those functions.
 
But has the traditional driver interface become distorted by the trend to build multiple screens and digitise displays. Are OEMs sacrificing ergonomics to the demands of customers, who equate more screens with better technology?
 
That’s a small part of it, customer demand may be causing a proliferation of displays in the vehicle. But, again it’s driven by safety concerns in the transition into autonomous driving. In a semi-autonomous car, it’s important for the car to communicate its intended path or action to the driver. That prevents unnecessary disengagement. 
 
Let’s talk more about your own technology and how you see that developing.
 
Our software works across control modules in the vehicle and supports the consolidation of functionality onto a single platform. That is the trend we’ve seen in the industry over the last five years. Control modules in the vehicle are using newer and larger silicon devices as tasks increase.
 
So we have a scalable platform that can run on a wide variety variety of silicon devices and operating systems. We provide an abstraction layer to the application. 
 
The application doesn’t care what device it’s running on or what environment. This makes it very easy to combine different functionalities onto a central device. It’s very much like a smartphone platform - which is appropriate as the company originated around Nokia
 
So can you upgrade the platform over the air?
 
Yes, we have a compartmentalised architecture that allows you to add and remove functionality in the form of apps. An application manager installs applications and updates themover an LTE connection.
 
Isn’t it a problem though that such functionality is also provided by Google and Apple, do you think you can compete with them
 
We don’t necessarily compete with Google and Apple we complement them. We have strengths in areas that they just haven’t gone into like functional safety and ISO 26262 support. That’s something that’s right in our wheelhouse. Our solution is very flexible. We are seeing broad use of hypervisor technology with multiple operating system domains running on a on a device.It’s possible to virtualise an Android environment next to a virtual Qt environment so they run in parallel or in tandem as opposed to one on top.
 
Voice control? Is that where we’re going next?
 
That’s what I expect to see, thanks to consumer conditioning. Everybody now has an Alexa or Google Home that they’re interacting with. There are days that I would like to tell Alexa in in my car add this to my shopping list but the interface isn’t there.
 
The consumer adoption and expectation of voice based interfaces has really changed dramatically in the last year.
 
I expect them to mature and learn from the developments in the consumer space around Alexa etc.  
 
What is the ambition for the business? Where do you see the Qt in sort of five years?
 
I see it expanding. We’ve been very focused on infotainment and the center stack applications. So Iour our scope inside the car is going to increase including into areas that Google and Apple don’t seem to have interest in.
 
I expect us to proliferate on to more bigger curvier displays, custom display formats, shapes sizes, also in heads-up displays - for the driver and the passengers in the vehicle.
 
Are all the major markets all working towards the same goals in autonomous vehicles?
 
They’re all working towards the same goals at the end of the day, but in different states of maturity. So for instance, we saw things like functional safety become a concern in Europe before they became a concern in in the North American market.
 
Autonomous is more advanced in the North America than in Europe. The US is leading the research and the ability to actually put it on the road.