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The Connected Car

The demand for a truly connected car presents a monumental opportunity for IVI developers

By Mark Whiteside, Bsquare

Much like the iPhone used to elicit the “Wow” factor way back in 2007, features becoming commonplace in vehicle infotainment systems are likely to cause that reaction in 2012.

The rising popularity and growth of in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems – embedded systems that provide audio, video, navigation, telematics and Internet connectivity – are part of the drive toward the “connected car.” Chief among the reasons for this push is consumers’ demand for constant connectivity; smartphones and Wi-Fi access are creating an environment where anything less is simply unacceptable. Other reasons include security on the road, better navigation of increasingly congested roads, the ability to find services and schedule appointments and generally remain connected. In fact, market research group In-Stat estimates that more than 35 million IVI systems will ship in 2015. The research group also found that the smartphone will be the preliminary source of in-vehicle infotainment and connectivity.

Think about the possibilities: Drivers could use an application to tell a car’s system what their favorite music selections are and then carry this intelligence to different vehicles, sharing their tunes on rides with friends. For road warriors, applications could personalize rental car IVI systems with points of interest, radio station settings and seat preferences, to name just a few – eliminating the need to fiddle with mirrors and scan through countless measures of the radio spectrum, making the entire driving experience much more convenient and enjoyable.

Beyond the convenience factors are fundamental aspects of integration that may enhance hands-free capabilities. Legislation to limit talking or texting while driving has driven a number of innovations for vehicles. As governments continue to adopt distracted-driver laws, vehicle manufacturers will continue to expand features that help minimize distractions for drivers. Imagine getting in your car and being able to seamlessly transfer your phone conversation from your handset to your car speakerphone without so much as a button push. Or think of the convenience of a vehicle that’s intelligent enough to transfer your call back to your phone when you turn off the engine. These may seem like nice-tohave conveniences, but in reality, this sort of functionality can reduce the distraction of managing multiple devices.

All of this creates a huge and growing market opportunity for development teams that have the right design and development process experience. The In-Stat report found that the total semiconductor market for IVI system suppliers will grow nearly 110 percent through 2015.

The opportunity is well-defined, but there are significant challenges for device makers and developers that want to take advantage of it. The biggest challenge is finding the best way to pair their expertise with compressed time-tomarket demands.

“One of the greatest challenges in bringing a competitive IVI system to market is getting far enough ahead of existing technology to preserve relevance when the system is finally launched,” says Roger Lanctot, a senior analyst in the global automotive practice of Strategy Analytics, a market research firm. “The big challenges break down to the human-machine interface (HMI), navigation (in terms of what enhancements will be relevant and competitive in two to three years) and mobile device connection.”

Breaking it Down
IVI system development has three major areas: headunit HMI development, mobile-application development and integration. Each area has its own challenges related to creating industry-leading IVI solutions. For example, with mobile-device application development, it’s important to consider developing and testing for various platforms. To fully integrate the HMI with a mobile-device application, you must consider numerous connectivity options – from Bluetooth technology to USB to Wi-Fi – each with its own specifications requirements for interoperability.

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Before writing or porting even one line of code, it’s critical to understand the ultimate business goal. By identifying the features and applications that have maximum impact on the consumer, you’ll be better able to define the scope and requirements and select the best design framework for your project. The answers will also help you clarify the best implementations that will ensure both driving safety and system security.

Head units generally offer touchscreen, steering-wheel and voice interfaces, and they are a key factor in creating a truly connected car. In the area of head-unit HMI development, the biggest challenges center on the user interface. The most difficult task is creating a consistent and responsive user interface that has the aesthetics that people have come to expect from their smartphones. Apple has set the bar as to what interfaces should look like and how responsive they must be.

Just a few years ago, there were limited options for user interface development. Ford Sync, developed during that time, relied on Adobe Flash as the basis for its user interface. At that time, Flash was the only technology available that had an underlying embedded system that runs on Windows. It was the best solution both in terms of time to market and providing a rich aesthetic to users.

Other available choices include HTML5. This high-performance technology delivers faster and richer rendering and is increasingly popular because it is standards-based, also available in common desktop browsers and already supported by a growing community of interface designers and software developers. Whichever technology is ultimately used, a decision about IVI system development may not be an easy one, because each technology has pros and cons. The choice will probably come down to what makes the most sense given other technologies that will come into contact with the IVI. For example, with HTML5, no certification process is required for applications. For IVI and other types of application development, the Bsquare HTML5 Rendering Engine product offers a general application framework for deploying all types of rich applications on mobile and embedded devices and can be supported on Windows CE and other embedded operating systems.

When designing the user interface, it’s also important to design for driving safety. It’s largely up to developers to ensure the security of their systems while implementing designs that are intuitive and minimize driver distraction. And it’s not just phone calls and texting that can cause distractions. User interface (UI) properties such as flow, responsiveness and stability, as well as UI element size, color and readability all can affect driver distraction and safety.

Surprisingly, there are no current U.S. regulations or industry standards for HMI design and interaction, and as a result, there are no UI guidelines for OEMs. That makes it particularly critical for development partners to be familiar with the guidelines of specific car OEMs. These partners know that user interfaces must be easy to use, that voice recognition should be used whenever possible to minimize driver distraction and that access to functions and features that may be distracting to drivers should be restricted when the vehicle is in motion. For example, watching a video on the in-dash display should be permitted only when the vehicle is parked.

Finally, it’s imperative to design for system security. The possible consequences of a security breach, such as a hacker enabling a distracting event while a vehicle is in motion, is a serious concern. Although it’s expensive, the most secure approach requires complete hardware separation. In this configuration, one system handles the IVI and another unrelated system handles other vehicle functions.

Another less costly – and more common – approach is using a single hardware system that keeps the IVI system and its applications in a software sandbox. This approach is effective, but requires careful engineering that limits exposure of the sensitive memory locations and applications, says Whiteside. Applications should run in a restricted space with few or no rights to access the rest of the system, he adds.

Mobility and Connectivity
It’s not so much the technical challenge when it comes to connectivity; it’s the revenue model. It’s easy enough to build a modem into every car, for example, but how would the revenue model work? That’s where niche players come in.

Like building modems into entertainment systems, nobody has figured out how to do the revenue model for it with the carriers. Who wants to pay a separate data subscription to AT&T or Verizon? Technically, you could build a modem into every car, but how does the revenue model work? That’s where niche players like Airbiquity and Sirius come in. With Airbiquity, data can be transmitted over a cellular call. The call goes to a back-end server so it can communicate with the client. This system is similar to how the GM OnStar system works. It allows small amounts of data, such as vehicle health reports or Facebook status updates, to be transmitted. The problem with this model is cost. Airbiquity charges by the bit. For now, users pay subscription fees, but the cost issue remains troubling.

Another option is connecting into a Sirius satellite radio feed, which includes data for traffic information, fuel prices, etc. The issue here is that users are limited to whatever data Sirius provides. A third option is plugging a USB stick or smartphone into the system, but there are cost and availability issues with this approach.

The variety of devices users want to connect to their IVI systems presents another challenge. Media content is resident on everything from smartphones to iPods to USB sticks, and they all have to communicate with the IVI system in some manner. Once this problem is solved, users will be able to speak to the IVI system, and voice recognition will understand the command, such as “Play songs by Rob Thomas.”

The Connected Car: Moving Forward
One day, a driver will be able to access an “automobile app store” on his or her in-car IVI system to download apps for almost anything imaginable. Those apps will work on any IVI system, regardless of manufacturer or automobile.

That vision may be a few years off, but it’s definitely on the horizon. What’s missing are technology standards and collaboration between vendors – issues that are slowly but surely getting resolved.

In 2009, a group of auto and technology companies including Intel, BMW Group, GM, Wind River System and Delphi formed the GENIVI Alliance. The goal of the alliance and its member companies, which includes Bsquare, is to develop a fully interoperable Linux-based IVI platform that includes an operating system, middleware and platform for the IVI industry. The first GENIVI-compliant platforms have been announced, and so far, four members have announced solutions based on Intel® Atom™ processors and ARM’s Cortex-A series processors. More recently, Toyota and Ford agreed to collaborate on developing standards for in-car telematics and Internet-based services.

Clearly, progress is being made, both in terms of technology and collaboration. Within the next several years, manufacturers and vendors hope to see full cross-vendor compatibility, which will enable development of more feature- rich systems while enriching the user experience.

 


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Mark Whiteside is vice president of professional services for Bsquare, which includes design, development, project management and education. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in computer science from the University of California, San Diego.