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The Onboard Silicon Challenge

The early years of telematics proved to be more promise than performance, more hype than hardware.

The early years of telematics proved to be more promise than performance, more hype than hardware. Coming, as it did, with an explosion in consumer electronics, the expectation that rapid change would flow through the auto industry was both understandable and wrong. However, the proliferation of hand-held devices has brought with it the new expectations and challenges for automakers and suppliers alike. “The consumer wants a seamless, uninterrupted data content and flow as they move from one setup to another,” says Anand Ramamoorthy, general manager, Infotainment, Multimedia and Telematics Div., Freescale Semiconductor (Austin, TX; www.freescale.com). “It’s up to the automakers and their suppliers to figure out how to make that happen.”

Concurrent with the infotainment explosion is an increase in the sensor information available to and analyzed by safety systems around the vehicle. Physical and financial limits on processing power–Ramamoorthy says putting the processing power on the chip lowers cost, but placing the analysis in the software increases flexibility–coupled with a need for upgradeability will force the optimization of how software and hardware is ported within the chip architecture. “The challenge is how to link with all of the devices to produce a very complete reference design that allows the customer to choose what makes the most sense for his applications,” he says. And while native automotive systems will be easier to add and upgrade due to common standards, infotainment will be a continuing problem because standards change at light speed, automotive is a small and demanding market for consumer electronics companies, and consumers expect their devices to work seamlessly in a vehicle environment that may have been designed years before the device they are using. “Most people still don’t think of their vehicle as a computer on wheels,” says Ramamoorthy, “and may not be aware of the need to upgrade the operating system or downloading a patch when the car goes in for service. We may find that services like OnStar provide greater value performing this function than helping us find our way home.”–CAS