Auto Electronics

Making Auto Navigation and Telematics More Affordable

Only a few years ago, a global positioning system (GPS) was a luxury for a few high-end cars. Communicating with a cluster of some two dozen satellites in space, GPS systems aided only a few in finding directions to their destinations from a starting point. With the price structure for such units falling regularly, GPS receivers have become affordable to many, enabling applications unthinkable just 18 months ago.

These emerging applications, plus renewed growth in existing markets, will help propel the global GPS market north of $22 billion by 2008, according to technology market research firm ABI. Consequently, new applications are on the rise, which include people tracking, automatic vehicle location (AVL), asset tracking, and recreational use.

“On the automotive platform, GPS has enabled a host of new telematics applications, from tracking a teen's use of the family car to automatic tax collection for interstate trucking companies,” stated Frank Viquez, director of automotive electronics at ABI Research. “GPS is the engine driving much of the telematics industry,” he added.

Now, to further propel the market, proponents like SiRF Technology Holdings Inc. are tapping advances in semiconductor processes and design tools to put such systems on a single chip and give GPS systems another shot in the arm. Lately, the company has readied a GPS system-on-a-chip (SoC) called SiRFstarIIA, a highly integrated and cost-effective CMOS baseband chip for creating affordable automotive navigation and telematics systems. For a total GPS navigation solution, the company has also created the front-end RF receiver chip to complete the design. Add to this its brand new patent pending SiRFDRive 2.0 GPS/Dead Reckoning software. The SiRFDRive 2.0 reduces system costs by tapping the vehicle data bus as a source of distributed sensor information, enabling automakers and tier 1 manufacturers to eliminate the cost of a dedicated automotive gyro and greatly reducing installation costs.

“We saw an excellent opportunity to help drive down overall system costs by developing a software that takes advantage of the information already available on today's modern vehicle platforms,” said Kanwar Chadha, founder and vice president of SiRF Technology. “The combined SiRFstarIIA/SiRFDRive 2.0 solution will enable automakers to add high-performance navigation and telematics systems to their vehicles at prices affordable to the mainstream consumers.”

In addition, the company is partnering with QNX Software System to provide a complete state-of-the-art system development kit (SDK) and board support package (BSP) based on the QNX Neutrino real-time operating system, and with Horizon Navigation to offer its NavMate software for sample turn-by-turn and map-based navigation applications.

Meanwhile, Blaupunkt, a subsidiary of Robert Bosch GmbH, has gone to production with its new in-vehicle navigation system, the TravelPilot E-series CD navigation radio using the SiRFstarII architecture-based intellectual property (IP) platform and navigation software.

For the U.S. market, Taiwan's Mio Technology Ltd. has launched a portable navigation system that can be conveniently mounted on the dashboard of a car. Called Mio 136 navigation system, a fully portable personal navigator and MP3 player, the Mio 136 uses SiRF's chipset and firmware to deliver an affordable navigation product to mainstream America. Initially introduced in the overseas market, Mio 136 provides turn-by-turn directions, both spoken and visual, to any address in its database, covering the North American continent and Hawaii.

In reality, the rate at which GSP technology is evolving, it is bound to become an affordable feature for mainstream cars in the United States and around the world faster than you think.

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