The increasing complexity of automotive infotainment systems continually challenges operating-system (OS) software providers to come up with the right platform, no matter what ICs or bus protocols are used.
"Many operating systems do not have the right reliability and diagnostic capabilities needed for present and future automotive infotainment systems," says Andrew Poliak, automotive segment manager for QNX Software. "Software will be the key differentiator for automotive infotainment."
Poliak speaks from a position of strength. QNX software is used by more than 180 car models worldwide and by more automakers and suppliers than all other OSs combined. The company works closely with automakers and tier one suppliers early on in the design stage, providing complementary prototyping software.
QNX's latest version, Neutrino, can easily be updated to support the latest media formats, standards, and features, even after the system leaves the showroom. "Neutrino protects everything all the way down to the device drivers, thus preventing unpleasant operating-system crashes," says Poliak. The microkernel-based approach used by Neutrino, compared with other OSs, ensures that these features are met (see the figure).
Poliak believes the Microsoft Windows-based operating system employed in the Ford/Microsoft Sync system is well developed, but stresses that the automotive world needs to put greater importance on a stable and reliable OS.
"We see quite a market in the future for middleware like our echo-cancellation and noise-suppression IP (coming out in early August), which can be built on top of a stable operating-system platform," says Poliak. QNX is also readying a full media player that makes it easy to connect a variety of audio and video devices.
Not everyone is so sure about the Windows OS in an automotive environment. John Bruggeman, chief marketing officer for Wind River Systems, feels that Windows is more of a PC-centric OS and that automotive makers aren't thrilled about having PCs requiring a driver's "primary" attention installed in their cars. He believes there may be a brighter future for the open-source Linux OS. In fact, his company recently embraced the operating system, with the realization that more and more consumer devices now rely on it.