Telematics catches a WAVE

July 1, 2007
New products and services like Apple’s iPhone and Ford’s Sync system are raising demand for more powerful telematics processors.

Will Apple's iPhone be the next iPod or will it Sync?

Ford spokesman Nick Twork noted that the automaker's Trip Tunes feature provides iPod connectivity — command and control through the vehicle's radio controls — and he said that Ford plans to support the iPhone through Sync, presumably with video routed to a rear-seat monitor to avoid driver distraction.

Ford's Sync, powered by Microsoft Auto software and Freescale processors and planned for availability before the end of this year, is Ford's integrated, voice-activated Bluetooth communications and entertainment system for mobile phones and digital music players (Figure 1). Sync will initially be available in nine Ford and Lincoln models.

Cellular-centric products and services like the iPhone and Sync are likely to increase consumer demand for telematics connectivity in their vehicles. “Telematics is all about two-way wireless communication, whether embedded, like OnStar, or through a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone,” said Phil Magney, chief executive officer and principal analyst at Telematics Research Group (TRG). He noted that automakers are putting “major pressure” on suppliers to reduce the cost of telematics products and services.

Monitored systems like OnStar provide access to remote diagnostics, automatic crash notification and other services, while non-monitored systems typically integrate a cell phone through the vehicle's audio system. Increasingly, Magney said, non-monitored systems are being used for turn-by-turn navigation.

“The telematics market is fragmented, and the market will dictate to what extent consumers want high-end performance or plug-in connectivity, or a combination of both, where a handheld device can leverage resources in the vehicle,” observed Mike Kasparian, market development manager for STMicroelectronics' automotive business unit.

In January, Chrysler plans to offer a monitored telematics system similar to General Motors' OnStar, BMW's Assist and Mercedes' COMAND. Continental Automotive Systems designs, develops and manufactures the modules used in all three systems (Figure 2) and ATX Group provides telematics services for BMW and Mercedes. HUGHES Telematics, which has a large footprint in the satellite business, is developing the Chrysler system. Nissan, Toyota and Honda have taken a “wait and see” attitude toward telematics in North America, but all three have robust telematics offerings in Japan.

HUGHES is developing a Linux-based multiprocessor system with hands-free Bluetooth capabilities and multiple CAN interfaces, according to HUGHES Telecom president Erik Goldman. In-vehicle hardware support includes a variety of specific technologies. In addition to hands-free Bluetooth capabilities, the Linux-based systems feature multiple processors and multiple CAN interfaces.

The system can drive multiple human-machine interfaces, including electronic vehicle information center (EVIC) modules, LCD displays and audio systems. It includes an integrated satellite digital audio radio service (SDARS) chipset and Internet protocol (IP) support and will use terrestrial cellular service for voice and point-to-point data communications, evolving to broadband WiMAX-like capability. Goldman said HUGHES' roadmap includes two-way satellite capability embedded within the vehicle.

In June, Nissan added wireless iPod connectivity for the Japanese market via a Bluetooth transmitter developed by Nissan and Mobilecast. Consumers can play music stored on an iPod through a Nissan CARWINGS-compatible HDD navigation system (Figure 3). The iPod can be operated via the touch-screen and multifunction control stack on the navigation system, as well as via the steering wheel-mounted control panel. The feature will debut on the Nissan Presage and become a standard feature on all new Nissan models in Japan. Sound quality is said to be equal to that of a wired iPod connection. Music is automatically muted during CARWINGS communication and resumed when communication is completed.

Toyota is continuing to evaluate the telematics market opportunity in North America, but will limit deployment to the luxury segment for the time being, according to Jon Bucci, corporate manager in the Advanced Technology Depart-ment at Toyota Motor Sales USA. Toyota offers a branded version of OnStar called LexusLink on Lexus models. “The enthusiasm (for tele-matics)of our parent company (Toyota Motor Corp.) is encouraging,” bucci added. “Telematics is squarely on our radar. It's not an area we are going to abandon, but we want to do it right.”

In meeting consumer demand for two-way communication, automakers must decide how much functionality to build in, as General Motors does with OnStar, vs. making it easier for consumers to carry devices and content into their vehicles, as CARWINGS, Sync and others do. The decision appears to be a “both and” rather than an “either or,” and that bodes well for suppliers of electronic system building blocks.

“Market trends are affecting design decisions,” said STMicro's Kasparian. “For example, car radios are going digital, and they have to simultaneously process audio files from multiple sources and formats. That demands a lot more input/output and processing power than was needed in the past, so there's a migration under way toward ARM7 and ARM9 CPUs and digital signal processors for compressed audio applications. Given that, design engineers will look at a box and ask what else they can do with it since, in many cases, they've already paid for a big processor.”

For the telematics system that HUGHES is developing for Chrysler, STMicro is providing its NaviFlex platform technology, which includes an automotive-grade ARM9-based Nomadik STn8810 processor with multiple DSP cores, plus an ARM7-based GPS tuner and baseband with embedded flash (Figure 4).

Kasparian said that only about half the resources of STMicro's GPS chips are needed for handling GPS processing, thus the remaining resources are available for the customer's application.

Freescale telematics offerings include the i.MX31 multimedia applications processor, a 400 MHz version of which powers the Ford Sync system, and the MPC5121e (Figure 5), the newest member of the Power Architecture family that drives OnStar.

Berardino Baratta, general manager of Freescale's Multimedia Applications division, said the i.MX31 is designed to provide sufficient processing power to run the Microsoft operating system, handle audio signal processing for hands-free phone operation, and perform the voice-recognition functionality in the Sync system. USB connectivity on the chip enables high-speed data transfer between the Sync system and a mobile phone or portable media device and Freescale's Smart Speed technology enables low power consumption. The Microsoft Auto platform includes a hardware reference design that supports the i.MX31. Freescale's MPC5121e is a 32-bit system-on-chip that combines Power Architecture technology with 3-D graphics and multimedia acceleration cores for telematics and other applications. The device is part of Freescale's mobileGT family, which is widely used for telematics. Mike McCourt, vice president and general manager of Freescale's Microcontroller division, described the MPC5121e as the firm's most powerful and feature-rich processor for telematics applications.

The MPC5121e has as its primary processing engine the e300 core, which is built on Power Architecture technology and scales to 400 MHz. The device also includes a PowerVR MBX Lite 2-D/3-D graphics core and a fully programmable 32-bit RISC-based multimedia acceleration core optimized for audio processing.

The graphics core supports 3-D texturing and shading and includes the PowerVR Vertex Geometry processor (VGP Lite) for high-performance vector processing. The multimedia acceleration core is designed to enhance the performance of compressed audio formats, such as MP3, AAC, WMA and Ogg Vorbis, and to optimize performance of real-time applications. The acceleration core also supports sample-rate conversion, noise reduction and acoustic echo cancellation, which are key features for speech recognition and in-vehicle hands-free applications based on Bluetooth wireless technology.

Peripherals integrated with the MPC5121e include 10/100 Ethernet, PCI, SATA, PATA, two USB 2.0 On-The-Go (OTG) with an integrated high-speed PHY, four CAN modules and 12 programmable serial controllers. The integrated display controller supports liquid crystal display/thin film transistor (LCD/TFT) displays. The MPC5121e includes 128 Kbytes of on-chip SRAM and numerous embedded memory buffers to reduce latency demands. A DDR-I/DDR-II/mobile DDR memory controller features integrated 64-channel DMA support.

The MPC5121e processor is automotive-qualified, suited for telematics, connectivity and driver interactive vehicle applications. The device meets AEC-Q100 and TS14969 requirements and is designed to withstand harsh environmental conditions. The MPC-5121e is compatible with application code written for existing solutions based on the MPC5200 architecture. Application development aids include the CodeWarrior Development Studio mobileGT processor edition and a Linux board support package (BSP) optimized for the mobileGT architecture and the MPC5121e development platform.

Other chipmakers also see opportunity in telematics. In May, Renesas announced the single-chip SH7775, a 32-bit SoC for car navigation systems and other in-vehicle car information system products. Running at speeds up to 600 MHz, the SH7775 is said to achieve performance as high as 1 giga instructions per second (GIPS) and up to 4.2 giga floating-point operations per second (GFLOPS). The SuperH device incorporates a GPS baseband processing function with GPS baseband IP blocks licensed from SiRF Technology Holdings. The chip also features a new graphics engine optimized for map drawing and 3-D images.

The SH7775 is the third-phase product in Renesas Technology's lineup of car navigation SoCs after the SH7770 and SH7774. The device offers 50% more CPU/FPU (floating-point unit) performance than the SH7770, “a necessity for meeting the rising design requirements of car information systems,” according to Paul Sykes, marketing manager for Renesas' automotive business unit. “The significant performance level increase coupled with the enhanced peripheral mix enables advanced next-generation systems at a reasonable cost,” Sykes said.

Fujitsu Microelectronics America (FMA) in May launched the MB86R01, a system-on-chip that combines a 32-bit ARM9-based CPU and an MB86296 graphics engine. Built using Fujitsu's 90 nm CMOS process technology, the device targets high-end, high-volume 2-D and 3-D embedded automotive graphics applications such as onboard and mobile navigation systems, graphical dashboard systems, and head-up display (HUD) units.

“Combining the CPU and graphics control capabilities on a single device will benefit a range of information and entertainment applications in the vehicle,” said Dan Landeck, senior marketing manager for Graphics Display Controllers at FMA's Embedded Systems Business Group.

The MB86R01 incorporates an ETM9 (medium) and JTAG ICE interface, 8-channel DMA and 32-bit timers. Its core frequency is 320 MHz, generated by the on-chip PLL, and it can be configured with up to 128 MB of DDR2 memory supporting 320 Mbps performance. Onboard peripherals include a digital-to-analog and an analog-to-digital converter, parallel flash/SRAM host interface with decryption engine, parallel ATA, SD-card, CAN interface, Media LB, USB 2.0 (host and function), I2C and I2S, PWM, SPI, UART, GPIO, and an external interrupt.

The chip also features bit-blt and texture-mapping units (up to 4096 × 4096), alpha bit-blt and ROP2 functions, and six layers of overlay display. Dual-digital video-input formats include YUV, RGB and ITU656. The MB86R01 supports built-in alpha blending, anti-aliasing and chroma-keying. Display resolutions range from 320 × 240 up to 1024 × 768.

National Semiconductor targets automotive navigation among other applications for its low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS) chipset, which serializes 24-bits of data over a single differential (2-wire) pair at 1.03 Gbps. The DS90UR241 serializer and DS90UR124 deserializer are said to feature a true embedded clock architecture, thus eliminating the need for a second oscillator at the receiver and the need to match oscillator frequencies. A random data lock offers quick recovery from datastream disruptions caused by spurious electrical impulses or momentary mechanical disconnects. The chipset locks quickly with and data pattern.

Analog Devices targets telematics and other “performance-hungry and connectivity-ready” embedded automotive applications with its Blackfin ADSP-BF54x processor family. John Croteau, general manager of Analog Devices' Convergent Platforms and Services Group, says the processors blend signal- and control-processing multimedia support, “Software flexibility is critical for automotive applications because media formats and communications standards inevitably change in the time it takes applications to go from concept to the highway,” he noted.

Operating at speeds up to 600 MHz, the ADSP-BF54x family doubles Blackfin's internal bus bandwidth to 532 Mbps to meet the demands of system peripheral integration. Croteau said the internal bandwidth is matched by up to 260 Kbytes of on-chip memory. Peripheral options include high-speed USB OTG with integrated PHY, an ATAPI controller a NAND flash controller, and an MXVR (media transfer) interface that facilitates telematics system integration through a MOST network. The processors can be configured with up to 152 general-purpose I/O ports.

Telematics providers are expanding the range of services they offer and new players are gathering at the edge of the market space. OnStar said in April that it's working with MapQuest to allow OnStar subscribers to plan their driving route on and send their destination to OnStar's Turn-by-Turn navigation service. The service enhancement, OnStar Web Destination Entry, will allow subscribers to use to research and plan their driving destinations.

Yahoo and Dash Navigation are collaborating on a service called Dash Express that will combine Yahoo's search technology with Dash's navigation technology, and BMW owners in Germany can click on a business listing in Google Maps, send the listing to their vehicle, and then set the listing as the destination for the car's navigation system or call the business from their car.

ATX Group commissioned J.D. Power to conduct research that indicated a preference among vehicle owners for remote services such as turning on interior temperature control and defrosting systems, remotely diagnosing vehicle performance, or notifying parents if a teenage driver exceeds a predetermined speed limit. ATX is bundling various remote services in packages it calls driver interactive vehicle applications (DIVA). The company has also begun to make its telematics services available to makers of portable and desktop communications and navigation devices, as well as to automakers.

“Telematics attach rates have increased across nearly all models in the last couple of years,” said TRG's Magney. “Automakers who don't have telematics realize the need to get something.”

The telematics services available today, however, may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Beyond traditional telematics services such as emergency notification, vehicle tracking, remote diagnostics, in-car communications, infotainment and location-based services, HUGHES Telematics president Erik Goldman sees the vehicle as “a unique mobile data center with the power to add value across a wide spectrum of stakeholders, from the manufacturer and dealer to consumers and third parties — such as fleet managers, navigation service providers and content originators.”

The next frontiers in telematics include vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. “The first steps in that direction are autonomous safety systems,” said Brian Droessler, manager of business development and strategy at Continental Automotive Systems. “The next step is talking to infrastructure points, and then talking from car to car.” Droessler noted that preliminary work on vehicle-to-infrastructure technology is well under way in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication — V2V — is a key part of General Motors' vision for the future of automotive electronics technology (Figure 6). Larry Burns, GM's vice president of research and development and strategic planning, sees connected vehicle telematics as one of four “genes” in what he proposes as a new automotive DNA (the others are energy, propulsion, and electronic controls).

Lane-keeping, blind-spot detection and crash avoidance can be enhanced by combining GPS data from a telematics system with steering and wheel speed information from an electronic stability control system and sharing that information with nearby vehicles every 20 milliseconds would provide inexpensive, 3608 sensing, according to Burns.

“Telematics is an absolutely essential enabler of autonomous driving, and our technology roadmap says autonomous driving is a 2015 possibility,” according to Burns.


John Day writes about automotive electronics. He holds a BA in liberal arts from Northeastern University and an MA in journalism from Penn State. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].


Analog Devices (

Apple (


ATX Group (

Bluetooth (


Chrysler (

Continental Automotive Systems (

Dash Navigation (

Ford (

Freescale (

Fujitsu (

General Motors (

Google (

Honda (

HUGHES Telematics (

Lincoln (

Mercedes (

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National Semiconductor (

Nissan (

OnStar (

Renesas (

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Telematics Research Group (

Toyota (

Yahoo (

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