Bridge the Gap Between Automobile and Consumer Product Lifestyles

Deliver a truly rich and interactive in-vehicle experience in a way that’s difficult or impossible for non PC-compatible platforms.

By Brad Starks and Susan Yost, Intel Corp. Excerpted from Automotive DesignLine


Car owners spend billions of dollars each year to help them find their way, keep informed and entertained, communicate with friends, family and colleagues, and keep passengers occupied. A broad spectrum of fixed function devices, such as GPS navigation systems, AM/FM/satellite radios, and entertainment devices allow vehicle occupants to access locally stored audio or video content from CDs or DVDs. But an explosion of Webbased services, content, and applications threatens to make them quickly outdated.

Additionally, while new consumer devices are hitting the market almost daily, long design and validation cycles in the automotive world mean that an in-car electronics device will take two to four years to reach the market after it’s fully designed. The result is that in-car devices are practically obsolete before they even hit the market.

The upgradeability and openness of a PC-like platform bridges the gap between automotive and consumer lifecycles. An in-car device using open architecture can be easily updated with the latest applications when the device ships from the factory. If the device is enabled to run Web-based applications, new applications and content can be available without making any changes to the device itself.

For example, with Web connectivity and PC-like software flexibility, the navigation application can offer live traffic updates, hotel availability with current rates, ticket reservations, or suggest the nearest fuel station with the lowest fuel prices that day. A connected platform can also benefit from the staggering amount of audio and video content available online and the multitude of services available to access that content.

AJAX and the Rich Internet

With a satellite image-enabled navigation application, the image must be refreshed as the car moves or as the user scrolls through the image to see what’s ahead. This can be a frustrating experience because the entire screen needs to be constantly refreshed as the image scrolls.

In contrast, a new generation of Webbased applications (Google Earth, for example) provides a very smooth and efficient experience, because it was developed using Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX), a development technique for creating Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). Many RIAs are developed in a PC desktop environment and run exclusively on x86 architecture. They don’t require special software installation, can be run locally in a protected environment (or “sandbox”), and can be “occasionally connected” as the car wanders in and out of wireless hot-spots. The intent of AJAX is to make Web-based applications more responsive by exchanging small amounts of data with the server behind the scenes, so that an entire Web page does not have to reload each time the user requests a change.

AJAX and the underlying Java development environment provide a security mechanism that allows creation of a special application partition to safely run untrusted programs in a protected environment. This enables both the bulletproof reliability expected from a car head unit and the flexibility to run personalized content and applications from the Web.

Additionally, most Flash media and applications are initially developed on desktop PC platforms and optimized for x86 architecture. Some are eventually ported to other platforms, however most are not.

Getting connected

In order to execute the multitude of RIAs, a car must be able to access the Internet. In addition to Wi-Fi (802.11), a short-range wireless technology that lets a car connect at the driver’s home or in various “hotspots”, the car can be connected through various wireless WAN technologies such as a 3G data connection. Mobile WiMAX has inherent advantages in throughput, latency, spectral efficiency, and advanced antennae support; ultimately enabling it to provide higher performance than alternative wide-area wireless technologies.

Intel is delivering key components needed for successful WiMAX networks, including the first fixed WiMAX solution (Intel® PRO/Wireless 5116 broadband interface), and a fixed/mobile dual-mode solution (Intel® WiMAX Connection 2250). Since the availability of wireless connectivity is unpredictable, the platform must be designed with the flexibility to support multiple wireless technologies using either plug in cards, USB or Bluetooth® to connect through special-purpose network access devices.

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