Monday, November 5, 2012

Top 8 questions for squeezing high-end tech into low-end infotainment

A couple of weeks ago, I hosted a webinar that addressed the question, “Is it possible to build an infotainment system that meets today's customer demands with yesterday's price tag?” The webinar explored several ways to reduce RAM and ROM requirements, eliminate hardware, and share hardware, all with the goal of cutting BOM costs.

As always, the audience asked lots of great questions, several of which I have answered here. Of course, these provide only a hint of the ground covered in the webinar, so I invite you to download the archived version to get the full details.

Built-in phone module versus brought-in smart phone: what is your take on this, and is a hybrid approach feasible?
The approach will vary from automaker to automaker. I think that embedded phones will be required for certain cars, especially if they use systems that rely on cloud-based services. This approach adds to the BOM cost, of course, but it may reduce overall cost, depending on what features can be off-loaded to the cloud.

Some brands will encourage brought-in devices as the lowest-cost alternative. The consumer will then have to deal with the setup and maintenance issues required to pair or charge the phone. I don’t see a clear-cut analysis that says one method will be better than the other — it really depends on what you want to accomplish.

Any thoughts on using MirrorLink to clone a virtual display to a remote physical LCD?
If you’re talking about a remote (as in cloud-based) device, I would say that HTML5 is a much more natural choice for a server-based application. If it’s a brought-in device, then MirrorLink or HTML5 could be appropriate.

If GPS is moved to a brought-in phone, how will a stolen vehicle be located?
It won’t be, unless the phone was left in the vehicle. This is one of the trade-offs you make when trying to reduce cost.

Of the cost-saving techniques you discussed, which are most likely to be used?
Already, some system designers are removing wake-up micros and DSPs. I’m not aware of any systems where the LCD has been removed, but this approach would probably offer the largest cost savings, making it a likely choice for entry-level systems and cost-sensitive markets.

Security and reliability are the main concerns of a head unit. Squeezing high-end technologies into low-end systems won’t relax those expectations. For instance, smart phone integration will be an add-on instead of replacing functionality of the head unit. Thoughts?
The trade-offs will need to be communicated to the customer. You can never build a head-unit augmented with a smartphone that works as reliably as the head unit operating by itself. As an OEM or Tier 1, you just don’t have enough control over the brought-in devices.

As an industry, we need to educate consumers. If they start relying on the phone in the car to provide certain features, then they will have to expect an inevitable degradation in overall system quality. It comes back to that famous adage: “cost, quality, or time — pick two”.

MirrorLink has a defined communication interface to the head unit. You also mentioned HTML5 as an option. Is there a defined standard yet for transmitting the HTML5 up to the head unit?
The interface between web server (i.e. phone) and web client (i.e. head unit) is already well established and tested. For some specialized features (for instance, allowing HTML5 code to access vehicle services) some standardization may be required. This will hopefully be a topic of discussion in November, at the automotive HTML5 workshop hosted by the W3C in Rome. Some Connected Car Consortium members have also discussed the possibility that, in the future, MirrorLink could add a transport mechanism based on HTML5.

You discussed peripheral sharing, using QNX transparent distributed processing. Does QNX TDP require secure authentication between distributed boxes?
No, it does not. It relies on standard POSIX user group permissions to provide access rights to devices.

Can you discuss any trends you see regarding Ethernet or TCP/IP in the vehicle?
Ethernet is definitely becoming more interesting in the vehicle, due to the introduction of Ethernet AVB. It makes a very natural replacement for audio-video transmission over MOST, and the additions to AVB that fulfil strict timing requirements can replace CAN or MOST for non-media vehicle messages. Ethernet also has obvious advantages when you need to access Wi-Fi networks, cloud services, and mobile devices.

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