The race to improve the efficiency of audio systems is also underway at Delphi (www.delphi.com
), which also has an energy-efficient audio system under development. The company is also working on cutting audio system weight through the use of composite radio casings, which weigh several pounds less than traditional metal casings. Delphi says the composite material can also reduce the amount of radiation emitted from the audio system, a common reason why metal cases continue to be deployed today. The supplier is also developing technologies designed to reduce the number of modules needed to add satellite, HD radio and other technologies to future audio systems. "As we look at the next-generation of systems, in the 2012 or 2013 timeframe, automakers are focused on having a better integration strategy for these technologies, with a focus on reducing costs and weight," says Ed Catlett, Delphi global marketing manager for audio systems.
But it's not all about audio efficiency. Gracenote (www.gracenote.com
), which began as a digital media recognition software company, is using its technology in new ways to enrich the audio experience. The company's CarStars software provides virtual celebrity disc jockeys that can customize music delivery from mobile music storage devices-iPod, Zune, MP3 players, or memory sticks-based on time of day, weather conditions, location, and traffic flow. The celebrity DJ-the selectable personality is based on analysis of the music stored in the selected device-can suggest upbeat music during morning drives and provide calming selections during heavy traffic. Different music selections are recommended when driving through different geographic areas. "We want to customize the music experience, because right now that is pretty vanilla. These systems know where you are and what you are doing-if you are driving along the beach or on a scenic drive, we can recommend different music than we would if you are stuck in traffic," says Stephen White, vp of content and product management at Gracenote.
If radios laid the foundation for infotainment, navigation technology provided the structure. For navigation system developers, getting you there is only part of the adventure. Tomorrow's car buyers are going to demand richer experiences when it comes to navigation imagery. Through the use of 3D high-resolution image technology, companies like Planet 9 Studios (www.planet9.com
) are ready to deliver realistic renderings of urban environments onto the navigation screen to give a more inviting driving experience. "What changed everything was Google Earth; before Google Earth no one knew they wanted to fly around the world and see things in 3D. Now, they want the same experience in the car," says David Colleen, president of Planet 9 Studios. Colleen admits 3D navigation systems have been available on the mobile handset market for years, but vehicle-based systems were delayed because of problems that developed when several companies introduced 3D systems in Japan in 2002 that proved to have less-than-satisfactory quality and reliability. "The roadblock was the chipset, but we're seeing that smaller and more powerful chips are now common in cell phones and handheld navigation systems, which is making them more cost-effective for car manufacturers. Also, breakthroughs in imaging technology have reduced the frame rates needed to get 3D imaging-computer games run at a 30 to 60 frames per second rate, but 3D navigation images can run at as low as 20 frames per second," Colleen says.
Audi has already taken the leap toward 3D graphic technology with its third-generation Multi-Media Interface system, which debuted on the '09 Q5 SUV. The system features 3D urban imaging, providing realistic renderings of high-rise buildings in select major cities for improved points of reference for the driver and occupants. "What we have done is integrate imaging for major building sites and points of interest-the Golden Gate Bridge, Sears Tower and the White House-and added 3D typography to improve the accuracy of the navigation system," says Barry Hoch, SUV product manager for Audi of America. Audi also revamped the system's human machine interface, reducing the number of buttons and screens to improve functionality. The knob interface on the lower center console now features a joystick for quickly moving the cursor to the desired function. Advanced voice recognition software has been added to reduce driver distraction. Audi engineers paid careful attention to assure the software understand conversational language, making it easier for the driver to select destinations and system functions. Saying commands like "I need money" or "I need gas" prompts the system to select the nearest ATM or gas station, for instance. "On our previous system, some functionality required spelling items out; now it's more conversational, and you can use the voice system from any screen accessing any functionality. The user no longer has to be in the navigation screen, for instance, to input a destination," Hoch says.
The next frontier for navigation systems is linking the technology with social net-working, adding functionality commonly found on websites like Facebook and MySpace directly into the vehicle. As cars become connected with wireless networks, it's not out of the realm of possibility to expect vehicles to be able to talk to one another in a fashion that will alert friends of their locations with the possibility of hooking up for a coffee or for lunch on the fly. Likewise, occupants will be able to communicate via text message through the vehicle infotainment network to advise friends and family of what they are doing, if they so desire.
The one area where infotainment technologies are likely to have the biggest impact in the long-term is occupant and vehicle safety. Using data compiled by navigation, wireless communication and audio data streams, active and passive safety systems can be programmed to prepare for an impending collision, helping to reduce occupant injuries. Other systems will help to prevent collisions altogether through the use of mapping data, weather information and vehicle telemetry. The next-generation 9-1-1 emergency response system will also play a crucial role in improving delivery of emergency services, thereby reducing medical treatment costs. The network uses Internet Protocol technology to transmit more than just voice signals to emergency dispatchers: the system can transmit images and distribute information via text message to cell phones in particular areas using location-based data.
GM's OnStar (www.onstar.com
) safety and security telematics service plans to leverage the new 9-1-1 system, along with 3G cellular, WiFi or WiMax vehicle-based connectivity, to improve the delivery of emergency services after a crash through the use of cameras located inside the vehicle. According to Cathy McCormick, service line manager for emergency services at OnStar, once airbag deployment has been confirmed, OnStar personnel would access the cameras to determine the severity of occupant injuries along with the number of occupants in the vehicle. (Presently the system can only determine whether there are occupants in the two front seats.) If the occupants are unresponsive, the OnStar advisor can transmit the photos directly to the emergency dispatchers, who can use them to assess potential injuries and determine the level of response needed by the emergency responders. "There are a lot of other technologies we could add to make the system more robust in terms of delivering data to the first responders. We're envisioning getting the initial phase of this off the ground in the next 12 to 18 months, depending on the deployment of the 9-1-1 technology," McCormick says.
Linking to the Outside World
Communications will play a pivotal role in making these technologies reality. This means a high-bandwidth, stable communications network capable of moving high-resolution video, audio, and complex data to the vehicle without any disruption of service. That's why automakers and suppliers have been touting the necessity to develop WiMax networks across the country. Why WiMax? Unlike WiFi, which was developed to provide limited distance mobile access to wired local area networks, WiMax was developed to provide long-range broadband wireless access up to 30 miles. Deployment of WiMax networks and the development of compatible peripherals is being managed by the WiMax Forum (www.wimaxforum.org
), which is made up of 500 companies working to deploy the technology nationwide. To date, networks have been established in Seattle, Baltimore and Portland, OR, but in other parts of the world the technology is moving at a more rapid pace. Korea Telecom has already launched WiMax to more than 400,000 subscribers in its home country, while another 455 deployments have taken place in 135 countries. The U.S. is likely to take a little longer to get on board, says Scenna Tabesh, WiMax Forum director of marketing communications. Still, when WiMax hits the airwaves, it's likely to change the way people interact with entertainment in their vehicles, while providing OEMs and suppliers with new revenue channels. "WiMax will do for the Internet what cellular did for voice. In 2008, 20% of revenues for wireless providers came from data. Once consumers get a taste of what's possible in getting things like high-definition movies delivered directly to their vehicles, no matter where they are, the technology is going to open up new revenue potential for everyone," Tabesh says.
The Network: The New Horsepower
Harnessing all of these new technologies and the repurposing of data will require significant changes to the underlying networks turn bits and bytes into high-definition audio, mobile commerce and advanced safety features. Engineers will also have to develop ways to make future vehicle computing platforms more scalable and open-sourced so that new features can be added as the vehicle ages, without the need to install new hardware. This is going to require OEMs to abandon their custom networking options that add unnecessary costs throughout the value chain. Some automakers and suppliers are taking the first steps to develop common system architectures for next-generation infotainment systems and their efforts may reap significant rewards when it comes to innovation and revenue generation. GM, BMW and PSA Peugeot Citroen, along with suppliers Intel, Magneti Marelli, Delphi, Visteon, and Wind River have joined forces to form GENIVI (www.genivi.org
) an infotainment consortium geared toward developing an open-source network that can be shared by all consortium members across millions of vehicles and components, with the goal of speeding time to market for new technologies, while also reducing development costs. "The goal we're trying to achieve with GENIVI is to close the gap between the interconnectivity of development between the infotainment system in the car and new technologies being developed in consumer electronics industry, which moves at a much faster pace than the auto industry," says Joel Hoffman, strategic market development manager for the in-vehicle infotainment group at Intel (www.intel.com
). GENIVI's concept of an open-source Linux-based network would enable software providers and other technology companies to participate in developing additional cutting-edge technologies that might have been difficult to achieve in the past as a result of differing specifications developed by each OEM. "The whole intent is to get automakers to come to the table together and not try to reinvent things every time. This seems to be the right time for this to happen because everyone is looking for ways to streamline their operations and it's apparent the auto industry needs to have a new level of collaboration," Hoffman says. The first fruits of the GENIVI consortium will appear in the summer of 2009, when the initial version of the open-source network will be released to the market for development. Vehicle installations could begin in 2012.
Chips Play Vital Role
As one would expect, a change in the network and a massive increase in the amount of data flowing into the vehicle requires advanced chip technology, capable of operating at lighting fast speeds, with unsurpassed reliability and, of course, at a reasonable cost. High-capacity chip technology isn't new-smart phones and other mobile devices have been using it for years. Now that same technology will have to migrate to the car. But, unlike cell phones, which have an average life expectancy of about two years, the chips used to manage vehicle infotainment systems will have to work without significant interruptions for up to 9.2 years-the average life span of a vehicle according to R.L. Polk-with minimal power requirements and, yes, there's that cost thing again. Intel (www.intel.com
) recently introduced a new family of chips designed to meet the requirements for next-generation vehicle infotainment applications. Its Atom processor Z5xx series operates at speeds up to 1.33 GHz at industrial temperatures ranging from -40 to 85oC, with reduced power consumption thanks to a new transistor design. The Atom processor made its debut in April 2008 for use in notebook computers, smart phones and other low-energy mobile applications. Intel engineers have been working on configuring the Atom for in-vehicle embedded applications, according to Doug Davis, vice president of the digital enterprise group and general manager of the embedded and communications group at Intel, who says the Z5xx series has been tested to operate on a 10-year lifecycle. "Everything about the performance, the clock speeds and hyper threading support, was designed specifically for these infotainment applications," Davis says, adding he expects the first OEM-installed Atom-powered systems to be installed in vehicles starting in the 2011 model year.
Other chipmakers are working diligently on solutions that not only deliver media into the vehicle, but deliver the data to specific zones within the vehicle itself. "We're working with the OEMS and the tier ones and saying, ‘Ok guys, how are we going to move high-definition video around the car?'" says Michael Haight, automotive product marketing manager for Freescale Semiconductor's Multimedia Applications Div., which makes the iMX 431 processor for Ford's Sync system. "That's one of the challenges that keeps me up at night."