This article also appears in
Subscribe now »

Harman’s Individual Sound Zones system lets drivers and passengers listen to their own audio stream.

Infotainment at CES shows rapid evolution

Infotainment systems are evolving rapidly, with chips that shrink radios, systems that isolate sound zones for individuals, and software that makes it easier to link smart phones to vehicles. Some advances were announced at the recent International CES conference in Las Vegas, which has become a major show for automotive suppliers.

Harman focused on personalization with its Individual Sound Zones (ISZ), which let drivers and passengers to create sonic zones where they can only hear content they select. When the driver hears navigation prompts and phone calls, audio won’t be muted for passengers. Each passenger can listen to their own music, games, audio books, or other content.

ISZ augments existing audio system speakers with headrest speakers and thin and flat Electro Dynamic Planar Loudspeakers in the vehicle ceiling, along with digital signal processing that maximizes speaker directivity and minimizes crosstalk between zones. It does not eliminate sounds, instead tunes them to optimize sounds for each individual.

An unrelated STMicroelectronics introduction lets radio developers create a single hardware platform that addresses all car-radio segments and geographical regions. The ST Advanced Radio (STAR) tuner integrated circuit provides a scalable terrestrial radio-receiver platform that lets developers create a single printed-circuit-board layout that can be programmed as a single-channel AM/FM radio or a multi-tuner, multi-standard architecture with DAB, HD-Radio, and digital rights management.

Nvidia unveiled Drive CX, an architecture that provides speedy high-resolution infotainment graphics. It uses the Tegra X1 chip, which also powers Nvidia’s Drive PX advanced driver-assistance system architecture. That system could help create the in-vehicle infrastructure for autonomous vehicles, which got most of the automotive media attention at CES.

Infotainment technologies are also making it simpler to connect phones. The GENIVI Alliance, which focuses on making Linux useful for infotainment, will deliver an open interface to Google Android that includes functions for authentication, audio, video, touch screen input, and microphone interaction. At the same time, Microchip Technology joined the Linux Foundation and unveiled software that lets designers use Linux with its MOST network interface controllers.

Market researchers at IHS predict that Linux will have a major impact, gaining a 41.3% share by 2020. Many observers feel that tight connections to cell-phone operating systems will be a requirement for infotainment systems.

“The GENIVI Alliance is very interested in making it easier for people to use Linux; a key factor for in-vehicle infotainment is to provide seamless integration for handsets,” said Kyle Walworth, a GENIVI board member and Vice President, Automotive Solutions, at Symphony Teleca Corp. “Android Auto covers a large portion of the handsets out there today.”

Android Auto will face competition. Audi, Hyundai, and Volkswagen all touted both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto at CES. Many vendors say that it’s easy to implement both because there are many commonalities, so it may well become common to see those smart phone links as well as MirrorLink, which lets phone displays be shown on vehicle screens.

GENIVI will also see competition. QNX Software Systems now has more than 50% market share in infotainment and should grow from around 16 million units in 2013 to 56 million in 2020, IHS predicted.

Continue reading »