Auto Electronics

Infotainment: Bringing Consumer Electronics Into the Vehicle

The passenger compartment of the newest vehicles provides drivers and passengers a different driving experience than they had 10 years ago. Systems such as GPS navigation, telematics, DVD and MP3 players, satellite radio, and digital audio with large digital displays and several hundred-Watt amplifiers or headphones have transformed driving—in many cases—with a personalized environment for each passenger. While some of these systems were demonstrated several years ago, technical issues including cost have been addressed and they are being offered in mainstream vehicles. Auto-makers and suppliers have plans for even more dramatic changes in the future.

The term infotainment is a derivation from information and entertainment. The information contribution to infotainment comes from Internet web browsers, telematics and navigational input. Entertainment has already expanded from the audio mainstay of AM-FM radio to include satellite radio options and digital video. Market research firm Strategy Analytics projects the global in-car entertainment portion to grow to $34 billion in 2010 from $19 billion in 2003. From an overall viewpoint, the industry analysts have almost universally identified strong (about 15% per year) growth in the information and entertainment or infotainment area.

Carmakers have recognized that multimedia and infotainment is important, especially in the entertainment side. “There is a tremendous pull on us to get the appropriate technology into the vehicle,” said David McNamara, manager of Advanced Infotainment, Ford Motor Company.

Areas that have been highly successful have been audiophile-level entertainment systems. Without appropriate action from carmakers, high-end audio could have become an aftermarket-only business. Today, customers are satisfied with the quality and the performance of their OEM-provided audiophile systems.

The next big trend has been video—integrated family entertainment systems for passengers. As this continues to evolve, the industry is faced with integrating cellular telephones, PDAs, and other portable consumer electronic devices. To take advantage of these changing technologies, a connectivity strategy and a human-machine interface (HMI) strategy must be in place that allows customers to bring their portable products into the vehicle vs. the carmaker building these into the vehicle.

The built-in strategy did not work well for cell phones, since they were a personal product that drivers and passengers used inside and outside of their vehicles. In other cases, integrating multidisk players into the instrument panel to eliminate remote CD changers as well as MP3 players that went across the product line-up were areas where Ford provided leadership. McNamara said that when the technology is firmly established, carmakers need to integrate as fast as possible without violating the automotive quality constraints. However, it does take several years to do this integration so the “standard” must have CD and MP3 levels of acceptance and not be a moving target.

For other newer technologies, the strategy has to involve open connectivity standards such as Bluetooth, USB and Wi-Fi as the way to connect these systems into the vehicle. To handle the high data rate, a fiber-optic network is one way that these systems can be connected together. Figure 1 shows a Media Oriented System Transport (MOST) network with many key systems tied together.

Among the challenges that come with the increasing number of entertainment products is product and network complexity. In addition, the power required for high-performance systems has increased significantly as well. Figure 2 shows a simple timeline that puts the enabling technologies, products and power in context.[1] While the 1000-watt audio system can be found in many aftermarket products, a system such as the one in Figure 3 is typical of a high-performance OEM installation. The combination of Boston Acoustics speakers and Visteon radios and amplifiers provide a unique entertainment experience in the vehicle. The total system is rated at 350 watts and a fiber-optic network is not required to interconnect the components.[2]

Talk to the machine The human-machine interface (HMI) is one of the more complex portions of the navigation system and an area that is getting a lot of attention for future systems. Voice for data entry in navigation systems is showing considerable promise according to McNamara. Voice input is also important when consumer devices are integrated into the vehicle. The problem is accessing the complete functionality of these products by the driver and/or passengers without complex indexing. Voice data entry is potentially the easiest solution to avoid scrolling through lists to find the desired selection. Suppliers are already demonstrating these kinds of solutions. For example, Visteon’s MACH® Voice Link (Bluetooth interface module) supports high-speed in-vehicle networks, active echo cancellation and noise reduction.

Telematics systems demonstrate the variations in HMI in today’s vehicles. BMW’s iDrive, which does far more than just telematics, and General Motors’ OnStar provide two different approaches.

In BMW’s iDrive, several controls are operated with a single multifunction knob located in the console between the front seats. The control provides rotary and pushbutton functions with the selected mode displayed on the dash-mounted screen. Twisting the knob allows users to scroll through menus. At this point, the capability of the interface seems to be overshadowed by its complexity, with many complaints from users.

With more than two million subscribers, and installations in more than 50 General Motors’ models in 2004 and 15 other vehicles from six other automakers, the OnStar design approach to telematics can be considered a success.

“Our system was designed to focus on the delivery of safety and security services as well as the ability to make hands-free phone calls,” said Walt Dorfstatter, OnStar chief engineer. “OnStar subscribers just push one button to make a phone call or contact advisors who are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Can’t get much easier than that.” The factory-installed version of OnStar is a simple, three-button system (Figure 4) that makes it possible to access all of the OnStar functions. The buttons and a system operating light are integrated in the mirror or instrument panel allowing easy driver access and making the system easy to use.

Car to infrastructure communications Communicating from the vehicle to the infrastructure is an area that requires considerable development. “The big area that we have been working on is with the technology for communicating from the vehicle to the infrastructure,” observed McNamara. Wi-Fi is a sweet spot because it is an open standard with an acceptable 300-foot range and data rate. Ford developed an Aviator with Wi-Fi as a working platform that they drove to Starbucks stores around the country. This demonstrated the kind of content that could be transferred from a hot spot to the vehicle’s onboard network.[3]

Ford is also part of a multi-OEM initiative that includes the U.S. government. The collaboration, which should be announced early in 2005, is addressing vehicle infrastructure issues and how all the diverse wireless technologies can come together into the vehicle. A demonstration project could be established in the Dearborn, Mich. area.

References: 1. Intertech’s “Power Management in Today’s and Future Automotive Systems,” including the 2004 update www.intertechusa.com/studies/PowerManagement/PM_Study.htm. 2. www.visteon.com/technology/automotive/boston_acoustics.shtml. 3. http://media.ford.com/newsroom/feature_display.cfm?release=17957. 4. Osram Sylvania FAKRA Spec information: www.sylvania.com/BusinessProducts/MaterialsandComponents/AutomotiveComponents/AutomotiveAntennaeCableSystems/NuChannel/NuChannel™+FAKRA+SMB+Codes+and+Applications.htm.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Randy Frank is president of Randy Frank & Associates, Ltd., a technical marketing consulting firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is an SAE and IEEE Fellow and has been involved with automotive electronics technology for more than 25 years. He can be reached at [email protected]

Getting High-frequency Signals Straight

Not too long ago, the only external signals in the car were AM-FM radio. Today, digital satellite radio, digital audio broadcast (DAB), cell phones, and GPS are being received in vehicles. “All of these systems need an antenna to receive some type of signal from someplace and that antenna has to connect to the back of a radio or some sort of receiver,” said Tom Gouldy, global marketing and sales manager, Antenna Cable Systems Division of Osram Sylvania.

“Definitely, antenna integration in the vehicle is a huge constraint,” said David McNamara, manager, Advanced Infotainment, Ford Motor Company. “Whether this is satellite radio or telematics, the antenna is prominently on top of the vehicle and it’s obvious that it should not be there.”

Connecting the antennas to the receivers has meant significant industry changes from the days when the only antenna on a car was an AM-FM fixed mast antenna on a fender with a simple cable connection to the back of the radio. The connection was straightforward, inexpensive and worked well for those frequencies. However, the new automotive applications are all high frequency—around 1 GHz or even higher as shown in Table 1—and significantly increase the complexity in the vehicle.

To prevent losses at high frequencies a new interconnect scheme was required. FAKRA, a unit of the German Standards Institute, developed a technical standard for high-frequency automotive connectors that is being accepted for vehicles sold in Europe and North America. For example, Osram Sylvania’s Nu-Channel connector is an FAKRA interconnect for coaxial cable.

By standardizing the FAKRA scheme the prices for these connectors will continue to drop making them affordable for all RF connections. “I have seen as many as nine coax cables presenting themselves to some box, somewhere in the car,” said Gouldy. The FAKRA standard is color-coded with 11 different codes and mechanically keyed connections to prevent assembly errors (Table 2). Most European companies are using the FAKRA connector for AM-FM connections.

Concealing the AM-FM antenna in glass is still important. The problem is that some reception capability is lost due to signal attenuation. A diversity antenna system conceals two or more antennas in the glass mounted at different locations on the vehicle and automatically chooses the one providing the better signal. These systems are frequently amplified so three cables can connect to the amplifier.

The FAKRA scheme is only a few years old and had pricing more than a $1 when it launched. Today, it is projected to be one-third of that level in a few more years. As the volume has increased and is projected to continue to increase, it has allowed suppliers to transition from machined pins and outer shells and tool up for stamped and die cast parts to reduce costs. The projected increased volume should be predictable, since FAKRA is an approved Deutsche Industrie Normen and a USCAR specification. Other wireless vehicle applications that may benefit from the standard include remote keyless entry, remote vehicle starting and tire pressure monitoring systems.

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