Tag Archives: Car

What can Bluetooth do besides make calls? (ABCs of Car Tech)

Most of us can agree now that Bluetooth connectivity is something that every tech
car should have, but why is it important? Is it enough for a car to simply support Bluetooth or is there something more that you should be looking for?

In this week’s ABCs of Car Tech, I’ll do my best to answer those questions and explain the ins and outs of Bluetooth wireless technology.

(Credit:
Bluetooth SIG)

What is Bluetooth?
When most people hear the word “Bluetooth,” they immediately think about speakerphones and wireless headsets for
hands-free calling. That’s partially correct in that these devices often use Bluetooth technology to connect with your phone, but hands-free calling is only part of the whole picture.

At the top level, Bluetooth is a wireless short-range communication technology that lets devices share data with each other — for example, your phone communicates audio data with your car’s built-in speakerphone and vice versa. More specifically, Bluetooth is a collection of dozens of profiles, which are basically communication modules that define how a particular feature operates or how the paired devices communicate with each other.

What are these profiles and why should I care?
For purposes of this article, I’ll be sticking to the profiles and features that apply to cars.

HFP is the most commonly used Bluetooth profile, allowing users to make hands-free calls.

(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

HandsFree Profile (HFP)
This is the Bluetooth profile that is most commonly used and with which most users are familiar. This profile is what enables your phone to send its voice data to your car’s hands-free system, a visor-mounted speakerphone, or a wireless headset, and receive input from a microphone. You can thank HFP for some people’s annoying tendency to refer to all wireless headsets generically as “Bluetooth”; however, this profile’s ubiquity means that you never have to worry about compatibility.

Phone Book Access Profile (PBAP)
You don’t want to be fiddling with your phone when behind the wheel, so you need some way to get the names and numbers of your contacts from the phone and into your car’s infotainment system where they can be safely browsed or used in voice commands. PBAP gives your car’s hands-free system access to your phone’s address book for syncing.

Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP)
A2DP is sometimes referred to as Bluetooth audio streaming. This profile transforms your Bluetooth connection into an invisible auxiliary audio cable, enabling wireless transmission of digital audio to your car’s audio system. Audio quality varies from case to case with a dynamic bit pool (or range of bit rates) being negotiated by the transmitting the device (your phone) and the receiver (your car) at the time of pairing. Generally speaking, we’ve found the quality to be good enough for compressed MP3s with only a few isolated examples of a noticeable quality drop.

The most recent version of AVRCP supports the display of song metadata.

(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP)
AVRCP often goes hand in hand with A2DP — in fact, you’ll often hear us Car Tech guys refer to the two profiles as one feature. What AVRCP does is add transport controls to A2DP’s audio streaming. Users are able to skip tracks forward and backward and pause and resume playback. The most current implementation of AVRCP also includes the communication of metadata (artist name, album, song title, and so on) and playback state (playing, paused, or stopped). In the future, we may eventually be able to browse media on the connected phone and perform simple searches.

Serial Port Profile (SPP), Dial-up Networking Profile (DUN), Personal Area Networking Profile (PAN)
These profiles allow an external device, in this case your car, to connect to the Internet using your smartphone’s data connection. Why would you want to connect your car to the Internet? Possible reasons include downloading traffic data, using online search engines to find destinations, and connecting to telematics services. Different cars work in different ways, using one or more of these three profiles. For example, Toyota Entune uses SPP to communicate with the Web through your phone. Ford Sync AppLink also uses SPP to connect with supported apps, but the Ford Sync Services function actually uses HFP to make voice calls to its automated call center.

Message Access Profile (MAP)
Texting while driving is bad, mmkay. However, many drivers have a hard time resisting the siren song of their notification beep. MAP allows incoming messages (usually SMS) to be relayed to your car’s infotainment system where they can be displayed or read aloud by a text-to-speech system. No longer will you need to wonder whether that incoming message is an important message from your boss or spouse that requires immediate attention or an unimportant message that can be attended to later. MAP is a bidirectional communicator, so certain cars can be set to automatically respond with a “Do not disturb” message. In the future, we may even be able to reply to the important messages via voice recognition.

Secure Simple Pairing (SSP)
This one’s not so much a profile as it is a pairing mechanism. If you’ve ever paired a phone with a Bluetooth speakerphone or headset, you’re familiar with the four-digit PIN input of Bluetooth’s legacy pairing system. If you’ve done it more than once, you’ll notice that most devices default to “0000” or “1234” for simplicity — not the most secure solution. SPP replaces the PIN input with a six-digit key that is generated at the time of pairing and displayed on both devices. The user simply confirms the match and the pairing is done. This pairing approach is both simpler because it doesn’t require inputting a PIN (just matching the keys) and safer because there are way more numbers between 0 and 999,999 than just 0 and 1234.

What’s the catch?
All of these profiles (and many, many more) are supported by Bluetooth, but that doesn’t mean that your phone or your car supports them all. Hardware and software makers can pick and choose the profiles they want and simply leave off the rest. Sometimes, that’s a good thing; you don’t really have a need to connect a Bluetooth keyboard to your car with the Human Interface Device Profile (HID), so why bother with the overhead required to load it.

Most Bluetooth-enabled cars support HFP, PBAP, and A2DP, but don’t support features like MAP or SPP.

(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

Sometimes, however, it’s not so good. For example, some car audio systems that support Bluetooth HFP leave A2DP audio streaming out of their feature set. Additionally, both devices need to support a profile before the user can access the feature associated with it. So if your car supports MAP, but your phone doesn’t, you can forget about hearing those text messages read aloud.

Some profiles are more widely supported than others. For example, while every car that touts Bluetooth supports HFP and most with voice command support PBAP, A2DP is sometimes left out. A2DP implementation is rare, but only the techiest of cars support AVRCP’s ability to display metadata. SPP is so new that most of the automotive world hasn’t had time to catch up to it; and I’ve never once found myself in a car that supported MAP with a phone that did the same.

But it’s getting better. This time last year, A2DP streaming was a rarely spotted bonus feature tacked on to a system bought for the HFP. This year, A2DP/AVRCP are almost a requirement for any car audio system worth its salt. We should be seeing more widespread implementation of MAP and Bluetooth’s Web connectivity features in the future. You can count on CNET’s Car Tech to point out the best implementations of this tech in our reviews.

Hopefully, by now you have a good idea of what Bluetooth is, what it’s composed of, and how it can be useful in the car. If still you have questions about Bluetooth wireless technology in the car, leave them in the comments below.

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Bosch robot lawn mower gives you more hammock time

(Credit:
Bosch)

Why waste your summer cutting grass yourself? Get a machine to do it. Robot lawn mowers are nothing new, but Bosch is introducing one that’s apparently more automated than competitors.

The Bosch Indego is an electric, autonomous mower that can cut up to 10,700 square feet of grass with little supervision, according to IEEE Spectrum.

All you need to do is install a guide wire on the edge of your lawn to keep the Indego in. It will automatically skirt all obstacles on your lawn including your pink flamingos, croquet mallets, and flower beds.

It apparently uses its charger as a beacon and navigation guide as it cuts the lawn, moving in straight lines where possible instead of a random pattern.

The droid can operate for up to 20 minutes per full charge, and then needs to juice itself for 90 minutes before it resumes work.

Although it may be released in Scandinavia for some $2,000, it would be cheaper to operate than a gas-powered mower, and better for the environment.

Check it out in the promo vid below.

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Chipped and tuned, Volvo C30 shows Swedish performance

Volvo C30
(Credit:
Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

Volvo long staked its reputation on safety, so you would not expect a hot hatchback to come from the Swedish automaker. But fit the little C30 with Volvo’s R-Design trim and give it the new Polestar engine software, and the
car becomes a delight to shoot down a twisty road.

The car did not make any more noise than a standard C30, the only things announcing the extra power being a blue badge on its butt and ample response to the gas pedal. The side-grip shifter for the six-speed manual slipped through the gate with European precision, but the most surprising thing was the handling. Banging the car through a series of tight turns, I found it held on well, and had plenty of overhead to go even faster.

2012 Volvo C30 R-Design (pictures)

The C30’s cabin appointments reflect Volvo’s premium car position, a big step up from other hot hatchbacks on the market. It loses some practicality with the split rear seats, limiting passenger room to four, but who really wants to stuff a fast little car with an extra 200 pounds of human?

It falls down a bit on the cabin tech, with a navigation system that is basically a portable device attached to the dashboard, and a completely separate interface for the stereo and phone system. There are some useful features here, including an
iPod port and a Bluetooth phone system, but it lacks many newer features found among competitors.

Check out CNET’s review of the 2012 Volvo C30 R-Design.

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Apple’s homegrown Maps app debuts (First Take)

(Credit:
James Martin/CNET)

It’s WWDC week, and one of the big announcements from today’s keynote was Apple’s new, homegrown Maps app, which will come baked into iOS 6 this fall. Here, we take a look at Apple’s new offering and how it compares to the Google-powered app that it’s replacing

Built by Apple from the ground up, Maps uses a vector-based engine that maintains a crisp appearance and seamless rendering, even as you zoom in and out. For context, Google Maps has been using vector-based graphics since late 2010, so while the technology is worth mentioning, it isn’t exactly groundbreaking. That said, let’s skip the underlying technology and get right to the noteworthy features of the new Maps app on iOS 6.

Turn-by-turn navigation
As
Android users will attest, navigation is one of the most useful and basic features that a mobile maps program can offer, and until now Apple users had to rely mostly on subscription-based third-party apps to get it. Well, with iOS 6, that ends, as Apple’s Maps app will offer native turn-by-turn navigation, very much like that available on Android. And from the looks of it,
iPhone users should be pleased with the finished product.

Similar to Android’s built-in Google Maps-powered navigation, Apple’s Maps lets you type out your destination or simply speak it aloud. From there, the app responds by speaking your directions aloud and displaying your position along the route line on your map. Siri, of course, is the star of navigation as it is her (its?) voice that guides you.

One small, though incredibly thoughtful detail is evident when a route includes two quick, back-to-back turns. In this scenario, Maps displays both directions, so you won’t be caught off guard. Google Maps should definitely take this page out of Apple’s book.

What we didn’t see in Apple’s Maps was public transit navigation. For now, you can get transit directions, but no turn-by-turn (or stop-by-stop) navigation like Google offers across hundreds of cities around the world.

(Credit:
Apple)

Traffic
Also available will be crowd-sourced traffic data and accident reports, which you can overlay on your map at will. This feature looks very much like the traffic layer that iPhone users have already been enjoying for some time, though its not clear whether the quality of the traffic data is remarkably different from before.

One thing worth noting is, if you get stuck in a traffic jam while navigating, Apple Maps will automatically offer you an alternative route and tell you how much time it could save you. Meanwhile, on Google Maps, you can easily switch routes as well, but it must be done through a menu.

(Credit:
Apple)

Info cards
In what appears to be an outright challenge to Google and its Zagat ratings, Apple’s built-in Info cards will offer local search info courtesy of Yelp. When you tap a point of interest, Maps brings up an Info card with vitals like address and phone number, as well as the ever popular Yelp ratings, reviews, and photos. In my opinion, this is a huge boon for Apple, as I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished Google had integrated Yelp instead of Zagat. The Yelp community is rich with user-generated content, and to many (including me) it is the go-to source for local reviews.

(Credit:
Apple)

Flyover (3D maps)
Finally, to no one’s surprise, Apple’s Maps will also include a 3D imaging component. Hot on the heels of Google’s announcement of the very same feature last week, Apple is touting its Flyover feature as “photo-realistic and interactive.”

Based on the demo, Flyover looks pretty much like we all expected. The 3D imaging is crisp, and it lets you zoom, pan, tilt, and rotate around landmarks. One thing it can’t do, though, is swoop all the way down into a ground-level street view mode the way Google’s product can. For some, this may qualify as a deal-breaking omission, as Google’s Street View is a wildly popular and useful feature.

Also worth noting is that Google’s full 3D functionality was actually announced for Google Earth and not Google Maps, meaning you have to switch apps to get the full experience. This, of course, means that Apple’s 3D Maps experience is just a bit more seamless.

(Credit:
Apple)

So far, Apple’s new Maps app is impressive. It has some stunning 3D visuals, easy-to-use turn-by-turn navigation, integrated Yelp data, Siri powers, and more. While it may not have quite as many features as Google Maps for Android, it is still a huge upgrade over the inadequate Google-powered iOS app that it’s replacing. Users of the iPhone and
iPad should be jumping for joy.

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2012 BMW X5 review: The big tech roller


(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

Automakers traditionally update a model, then leave it alone for three to five years, with maybe a minor cosmetic change somewhere in the product cycle. The X5, due for a major update in 2013, may look similar to its 2007 self, but the performance and cabin tech have all kept up with the times.

Under the hood sits BMW’s N55 engine, the latest version of its 3-liter straight six cylinder, using direct injection for fuel delivery and a twin scroll turbocharger to boost power. Its eight-speed automatic transmission also represents more recent BMW technology. And BMW engineers tweaked the all-wheel-drive system, standard on the X5, with road-holding technologies such as corner braking and torque vectoring.

The cabin electronics include the latest BMW apps system, which reads Facebook and Twitter feeds out loud, and can even post canned updates based on the
car‘s GPS location. The navigation system’s maps are very refined, second only to those used by Audi.

The heavy steering wheel feel will be too much for those seeking a coddling luxury SUV, but BMW has always emphasized driving character. The biggest problem with the X5 is its weight, at well over 4,000 pounds it takes a lot of gas to move this beast even with the latest fuel-efficiency technologies on the market.

Check out CNET’s review of the 2012 BMW X5 xDrive35i.

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QNX’s Jeep Wrangler sends its playlist to Facebook

QNX app integration

The QNX Car 2 application platform enables full app integration into a car.

(Credit:
QNX)

A Jeep Wrangler owned by QNX Software Systems let the world know, via its Facebook page, that it was playing Iggy Pop’s “Passenger” on its stereo. Beyond demonstrating its good taste in music, this Jeep was showing off the capabilities of QNX’s
Car 2 application platform for the attendees of the Telematics Update show in Detroit this week.

Unless you work with embedded systems, you probably have not heard of QNX, but if your car has
iPod integration it is likely QNX software enables that feature. Although QNX can provide piecemeal solutions for automotive systems, the company is pushing its new Car 2 application platform as a completely integrated software stack on which automakers can build a very wide variety of features.

As implemented in the Jeep, it shows the ability to run a virtual instrument cluster, infotainment features, and deep integration with the car’s driving systems, such as brakes and engine. The platform supports apps, too, extending the feature set to third-party developers.

Jeep Wrangler QNX reference vehicle (pictures)

Click through for the full photo gallery and more details.

QNX used an LCD for the instrument cluster in the Jeep and a touch screen for the center head unit. The touch screen shows controls typically found in cars, such as a radio tuner. The feature set is extended greatly through a collection of apps. QNX installed Telenav’s Scout, giving the Jeep navigation, Pandora and Slacker for extra audio sources, and BestParking to aid in finding parking spaces.

Facebook integration makes for one of the showier features in the car. With this app, the car can post the current track playing on its stereo, and should also be able to use its navigation system to give its location or destination. BMW has implemented similar Facebook integration in its production cars through its BMW Connected app.

The LCD instrument cluster presents another range of possibilities. An automaker implementing the system could give drivers a number of gauge configurations and aesthetic themes. The LCD could also turn into a camera display to aid parking. These types of instrument clusters are slowly trickling out into the market, most recently with the new Dodge Dart.

One area where QNX pushes the bleeding edge with its Car 2 application platform is with HTML5. Using this standard for interface elements will make it much easier for software engineers to develop next-generation infotainment in cars. And these same software engineers will find it easier to carry their skills from one company to another.

QNX has built a series of cars to demonstrate its software expertise, showing automakers the possibilities inherent in its platform. However, given the sometimes glacial pace of automotive development, don’t expect to see all the features shown in this Jeep Wrangler at a dealership any time soon.

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