Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Chassis

Welcome to a new series of guest posts from Matt Watson, product line manager of
Texas Instruments' automotive infotainment group. In this installment, Matt discusses
how a key aspect of infotainment systems can get (unjustifiably) overlooked.

Matt Watson
I had an interesting revelation recently. Last fall I was at Japan’s Narita airport, waiting to board a flight, when someone jostled my backpack free of my shoulder. The backpack crashed to the floor and the impact crippled the screen on my 5-year old trustworthy portable music player (ok, iPod). The iPod would still play music, but I couldn’t “drive” it.

I wasn’t particularly interested in navigating this product blind, so I had already mentally picked out a replacement during my flight back to Texas. When I landed, I got into my car to drive home and, out of habit, plugged the iPod into my car’s USB port and listened to my normal playlist. It didn’t dawn on me immediately, but I soon realized that I was navigating the iPod from the car’s radio UI. So my iPod wasn’t useless, after all, and still provided me with its primary function — audio playback in my car.

Here was my (three-part) revelation:
  1. My wife was right: I bought my car only as an iPod accessory
  2. I wasn’t going to get spouse approval for the iPod upgrade I had already ear-marked
  3. Sometimes we tend to forget the primary function (I had an alternative way to access the control of the iPod even without the display!)
At this point, I’d like to draw an analogy between the automotive infotainment system and the car itself. Let’s consider the infotainment system as a combination of a strong chassis (engine, powertrain, suspension, braking system, etc.) and a body (outside body, seats, user-interacting components):

  • Chassis = radio, multimedia and vehicle connectivity functions
  • Body = user interface, including cutting-edge features that resemble consumer/mobile experiences

In the world of automotive infotainment, the focus of attention is often on the ”body”: the functionalities mirroring the latest in consumer trends. Meanwhile, the workhorse “chassis” is overlooked. No doubt, these consumer-tracking capabilities are important, as they drive innovation, ease of use, and connectivity with existing devices. But I want to focus here on the “chassis” of the infotainment system, which handles radio, audio, voice/speech, and vehicle connectivity, and which exists in every vehicle, be it luxury or entry.

In future posts, I’ll look at some of the areas of innovation that we are driving at Texas Instruments in the area of smart integration from a processing perspective for the infotainment “chassis”. I’ll describe these from a few different perspectives: CPU/peripheral integration, system, and software integration. I’ll also explain how QNX technologies can be leveraged to further the cause of easy integration in the vehicle, including the newer QNX technologies such as the Persistent Publish/ Subscribe (PPS) service, as mentioned by Sheridan Ethier in his recent interview on HTML5.

For now, I’ll leave you with a picture of my (still functioning) iPod — note the blank screen and imagine audio playing back just fine…

Editor's note — Here's a little more about Matt:

Matt Watson is the Product Manager for the TI Audio and Automotive Infotainment Processors at Texas Instruments. At TI, Matt has also held roles managing software development for audio, multimedia, and infotainment groups over the last 10 years. Prior to joining Texas Instruments, Matt held positions at Dolby Laboratories (focusing on low-bit rate audio coding) and Motorola (developing software for floating-point audio Digital Signal Processors).

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