Electronic Design

The Line Between Telematics And Infotainment Blurs Even Further

In the end, though, the only line that customers care about is the bottom line in terms of connectivity.

TTelematics and infotainment appear to be on a collision course within the automobile. The terms themselves have caused some confusion. Telematics refers to the combination of telecommunications and informatics, basically wireless communication. Infotainment indicates the combination of information and entertainment. Even the analysts can’t agree on what differentiates telematics and infotainment.

“You call five different people, you are going to get five different answers,” says Mark Fitzgerald, senior industry analyst, Strategy Analytics. “We drew a line in the sand with telematics, saying that it needs to have GPS capability and two-way communications.” For example, wireless, hands-free talking through a Bluetooth connection is considered infotainment, not telematics.

According to Fitzgerald, the connectivity of portable devices is really pushing market acceptance. “That’s why Sync has been very popular, very quickly,” he says. Ford says that its dealers have sold vehicles featuring its Sync infotainment system, which was introduced in the company’s 2008 vehicles, twice as quickly as those without the system.

When it comes to wireless connectivity, cellular, GPS, satellite, and broadcast AM and FM are well-established technologies for vehicles. Wireless protocols emerging for vehicle usage include Wi-Fi, WiMAX broadband and 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) (broadband cellular), Radio Data System (RDS), and perhaps more. Increasingly popular navigation systems require GPS technology to precisely identify the vehicle’s location.

SiRF, a member of the CSR plc Group of companies and a leading GPS IC supplier, partnered with M/A-COM Technology Solutions to help create a networked GPS module. The new GPS transceiver provides location information to the new generation of vehicle-based communications and entertainment systems. To simplify system design, the unit’s antenna efficiency and receiver sensitivity allow for installation almost anywhere on the vehicle, including hidden mounting locations (Fig. 1).

For other wireless applications, Brian Droessler, director of Connectivity Group North America for Continental Automotive Systems, points out the difference between wireless alternatives depending on the transmission requirements. For example, the vehicle can receive traffic data from an RDS channel on the FM band, a satellite radio connection, or a cellular two-way communication. A one-to-many broadcast scheme works well for traffic information. However, a driver or passenger who is sending a search request and receiving data in the vehicle environment requires cellular.

“Just because of the reach and the coverage,” says Droessler. “Wi- Fi hot spots don’t blanket the road like cellular does. You can go through your different wireless technologies and for many reasons, you kind of end back at cellular.” Cellular technology is an integral part of OnStar, Sync, and Continental’s recently introduced AutoLinQ system.

Inside the vehicle, Bluetooth offers one more wireless connection, especially for interfacing to the user’s “brought in” cell phones. But hardwired connectivity also provides access for cell phones as well as other brought-in consumer electronics products. Direct audio connections to iPods and other music players are one means. USB provides multiple connection possibilities.

SMSC is involved with USB technology for vehicles with infotainment and telematics applications. “USB, of course, is the technology of choice for connecting to most consumer devices,” says Henry Muyshondt, senior director of business development for SMSC’s Automotive Infotainment Systems Group.

The company’s USB83340 and USB82660 deliver an automotive- grade USB 2.0 hub and flash media card controller, and its USB82514 is an automotive-grade USB 2.0 highspeed four-port hub. A USB controller can be used for connecting a consumer’s brought-in product to obtain data and for recharging its batteries, but it will also connect embedded devices such as a USB transceiver or mass-storage device inside the head unit (Fig. 2).

The availability of low-cost 2-Gbyte data cards opens new possibilities for in-vehicle telematics usage. For instance, navigation data could be saved on an inexpensive SD card instead of using a DVD player. The card can be easily and inexpensively upgraded, or a new map area can be added as required.

Muyshondt also has extensive insight into high-speed distributed systems in the passenger compartment. “The infotainment system is the only basis upon which you can bring telematics in and out of the car because the infotainment system is what eventually actually connects to the eyes and the ears of the people inside the car,” he says.

SMSC’s Media Oriented Systems Transport (MOST) provides the infrastructure where multiple devices can communicate with each other, automatically coordinate functions, and distribute audio and video around the vehicle (Fig. 3).

Initially introduced as a fiber-optic system running at 25 Mbytes/s, a version has been introduced that employs unshielded twisted-pair or shielded twisted-pair cabling that runs at 50 Mbytes/s. Toyota has this version in several models, including the newest Prius. The very latest generation of MOST uses optical fiber and runs at 150 Mbytes/s. “It’s not on the road yet, but the systems are being actively developed that use it,” explains Muyshondt.

General Motors’ OnStar pioneered telematics for the masses more than a decade ago and continues to increase its services. As a result, GM continually boosts the performance of its embedded processor (see Expanding Telematics For The Masses). The simple threebutton interface to an embedded cellular phone connects the user to a service center and automatically calls the center if an accident occurs (Fig. 4).

Announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2007, Ford’s Sync provides infotainment for the masses based on the ability to easily connect to the user’s cell phone, portable media players, and USB storage devices. Sync has had two system enhancements since its introduction (Table 1). Both GM’s OnStar and Ford’s Sync will be standard equipment on each company’s U.S. vehicles by the end of 2009. Not surprisingly, GM and Ford have taken rather different approaches to telematics and infotainment.

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“They are both coming from their heritage, either the traditional telematics e-call side or the infotainment side,” says Michael Haight, automotive product marketing manager, Freescale Semiconductor. “They are certainly blurring the lines.” Freescale processors are used in both OnStar and Sync systems.

“We are somewhat agnostic between those two approaches because for us it’s the difference between hardwired to maybe a 3G modem versus being Bluetooth connected to a 3G-enabled cell phone,” says Haight. “What’s really driving our products in terms of capabilities is more things like voice recognition capabilities and graphics rendering capabilities.”

Aimed at more natural language speech recognition, the iMX51 processor, announced at CES 2009 in January, is already in the design-in phase for future vehicles. In contrast, Freescale’s iMX35, an ARM11 core processor, used in the Ford Sync, requires spoken input in a specified order (Table 2).

ARM is the core for telematics and infotainment entry points as well as higher-end systems. Engineers have found that ARM provides the core technology for both telematics and infotainment.

“There are two reasons for that,” says Boris Vittorelli, automotive segment manager at ARM. “Essentially, there’s a lot of consumer and mobile communications type of technology in those systems and we have a very rich software ecosystem in that particular area. Then, obviously, we have a market which is pretty widespread from entry level to the very high end.”

Initially, ARM7 was a starting point. Today, the ARM9, ARM11, Cortex-A8, and Cortex-A9 are being evaluated for infotainment/ telematics applications (Table 3). Even though the performance is available from ARM, there are still design choices.

“If you start offering rear-seat DVD and entertainment, or if you start to offer dual displays and integrate rear-vision cameras and new functionality, then you are out of the performance envelope of an ARM11. You have the choice to go superscalar or to go symmetric multiprocessing. There’s pros and cons in both,” says ARM’s Vittorelli. “We see both ARM11 MP and Cortex-A8 being used in that space.”

NEC chose multiprocessing to solve the conflicting needs of quick startup and extensive computing for a very rich media environment. To get the best of both worlds, asymmetrical multiprocessing allows different operating systems to run on different cores. One could be optimized for fast boot time and the other optimized for a rich media environment (Fig. 5).

“Getting things up and running fast is a requirement, so you boot a very small compact operating system on one of the cores and you use that to quickly display information to the customer,” says Nathan John, platform solutions manager with NEC Electronics America.

Once the other cores are up and running, rebooting the starting processor with the complex operating system provides increased computing power in a seamless environment. The end result is a complex multiprocessing approach. “Systems under development are using those kinds of techniques,” says John.

As the supplier of hardware for both GM’s OnStar and the Ford Sync, Continental has unusual insight into automotive telematics and infotainment requirements. “AutoLinQ is one vision of how you bring the infotainment and telematics together,” says Continental’s Droessler.

The system provides both telematics and infotainment with different packaging options and creates a two-way link from the vehicle’s infotainment system to the outside world using an embedded cell phone. Based on the Android open-source project, which uses an open Linux kernel and has a versatile software set for mobile de vices, AutoLinQ expects to leverage the support of third-party developers from the consumer electronics world.

Software can be a dominant cost factor in new vehicle and specifically new system development, Therefore, recognizing that the added cost of hardware can be offset by software, especially software that can be downloaded in the future, is a major sea change in automotive design philosophy. Ford’s admission that Sync sells cars proves the investment has already paid off.

Also, it changes the design criteria for processing power in infotainment. Instead of squeezing out more and more cost from a processor, carmakers will be asking what they must have in future infotainment systems to sell more cars, concludes NEC’s John. This is the way to reserve the overhead that will be required for upgrades.

Future third-party applications and upgrades bring even more value to customers. “Manufacturers that we talk to are really driving toward having the capability to run third-party applications and a variety of applications to have field upgrades for the system, so you can have new applications and even customers loading new applications in themselves,” explains NEC’s John.

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As a supplier of real-time operating systems and other software for telematics, infotainment, and navigation, QNX recognizes what it has to do to help automakers reserve capacity. “The OEMs that we’ve talked to are not necessarily really interested in having a completely open environment for downloading stuff,” says Andy Gryc, senior automotive marketing manager at QNX.

QNX’s OS approach allows OEMs to control system operation and third-party developers through an applications store. Its adaptive partitioning technology avoids overloading the CPU with newly installed software. QNX also helps to reserve headroom. “We give them the capability to reserve some of that out so they can fully test their system in kind of a lesser capacity,” says Gryc.

As consumers embrace the automobile as a required part of their connectivity, carmakers must respond. The right response can add an important item to their list of vehicle differentiators.

“They can bridge the gap of staying current with this system during the 10-year life expectancy of the car owner,” says David Stone, director of marketing, Automotive Strategic Business Unit, NEC Electronics America. “Whoever solves some of that problem, to keep it as current as possible with upgrades over time, that will be a major solution to the consumer.”

Regarding the blurred line between telematics and infotainment, NEC’s John has a bold conclusion. “In not too many years hence, there will be no line between those,” he predicts.

Strategy Analytics’ Fitzgerald sums up the telematics-infotainment situation rather nicely. “The experts can’t agree what it is. The consumer doesn’t know and actually, the consumer doesn’t really care, as long as the system works and does what they need,” he says.

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