The past couple of weeks were filled with news from the two hot January tradeshows, International CES 2014 and North American International Auto Show 2014. What links these shows even more tightly together than in years past, is the role that information and connectivity are playing in our daily lives. The lines are blurring – or converging is likely a better perspective - between our consumer electronics (CE), our business computing, and our personal information needs for logistics, entertainment and safety. The end result is a new competitive playing field focused around human-machine interfaces (HMI) with solutions that partner electronics and automotive designers, as auto OEMs vie to meet our demands and win our purchases.
Auto infotainment expands
Not only has the average number and range of semiconductor and electronics in vehicles been climbing in the past few years, the types of solutions being provided are increasing at an equally rapid pace. This is great news for the semiconductor and electronics industry, of course. Although the auto industry has a relatively stable base of sales and doesn't tend to experience the positive spikes that our CE market does, the influx of auto into our industry's supply chain is having a significant, positive impact. With this positive impact and sales expansion from auto, we saw very clearly the effects on what was displayed at CES 2014, and vice versa at Detroit Auto Show 2014.
Automotive information and entertainment (auto infotainment) solutions are one of the top rising markets for semi and electronics solution designers. The breadth and depth of these solutions makes it relatively difficult to cover in a shorter space, however, the follow few highlights from the leading companies that were seen at the January shows underscore important themes for this year:
- Intel – this industry leader has its eyes focused on mobile and auto, and particularly the combining of the two. In-vehicle infotainment (IVI), as Intel calls their system designs, are rooted in customized, R&D solutions with leading auto OEM partners to provide serious semi-backed solutions for mobile connectivity, charging, entertainment, information and safety for passengers and for drivers, respectively. These solutions are based on Intel's Atom™ E66xx series solutions.
- ARM – auto infotainment solutions supporting auto OEMs quest to match user experiences in the car with those on their personal devices. These solution series incorporate ARM powered platforms (such as Ford Sync's supported by ARM9 processor series and AMBA protocols) with standardized basic systems that can be customized to OEMs unique specifications to allow for seamless connectivity by users and all their devices as they move from work to car to home.
- Broadcomm – in-vehicle connectivity is, of course, an essential, and solutions from Broadcomm (such as with partner Parrot as displayed at CES 2014) are pushing the on-board Ethernet solutions along with next generation hands-free. Connectivity for Broadcomm and its partners is not just about connecting mobile phones and traditional CE devices in-vehicle, but the range of devices in the user's CE bag, from cameras to music, phone to tablet, and then all of the important auto information and safety, into a coherent and useful experience. Broadcomm's solution pays attention to the heavy amount of data traffic that must be prioritized and delivered quickly utilizing 5G WiFi delivered through Broadcomm's BCM89335 that includes Bluetooth Smart Ready, and Android platform integration.
- Nvidia – seeing the car as an extension of the driver is an important concept for understanding Nvidia's solution series that is quite widely adopted in 35 car models' auto-infotainment solutions. Nvidia has built its solution on the multi-core Tegra processor System-on-Chip (SoC) series that includes the ARM multicore CPU as well as GPUs to support internal and external cameras as well as high resolution displays and instrumentation. Nvidia's SoC also includes "NVIDIA Kepler™-class GPU with 192 NVIDIA CUDA® cores, and dedicated audio, video, and image processors. But it consumes 50 times less energy than the typical CPU." Nvidia covers a wide array of solutions for automotive, not only the IVI, but also rich graphics for digital control displays
- Qualcomm – the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon solution for auto- infotainment was showcased this month for automotive standards: "[…] The Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 602A applications processor with a quad-core Krait™ CPU, Adreno™ 320 GPU, Hexagon™ DSP, integrated GNSS baseband processing and additional high-performance audio, video and communication cores." At the heart of this solution series is the seamless connectivity that is made available to users with flexibility in hosting and designing custom solutions for auto OEMs and the ability to connect up to eight devices in the car simultaneously by making the car a WiFi hotspot.
Customizing standards for connected success
Important to not just the few solutions highlighted above, but also the many more exhibited at CES and the Detroit Auto Show, are the flexibility (or customization) for auto OEMs to design unique and focused solutions. Chip solution providers recognize that differentiation and market targets are critical among the very competitive auto OEMs. The solutions we see leverage amazing processors for vehicles (what we'd normally see in tablets and smartphones, for example) and provide top of the line system packages that support highly sophisticated electronics and data collection and prioritization while also paying attention to costs by building on chipsets that are customizable.
In this solution mix we see again the importance of embedded systems and System-on-Chip (SoC) processors expanding the range of high performance, cost-effective, CPU and/or accelerated processing unit (APU), and small-footprint solutions, that are powering the latest wave of auto infotainment. In return, consumers are being treated to an exciting wave of new features and support capabilities for their personal devices without having to leave the driver's seat!