contributed by Jim Morrison, Product Manager
Today’s automotive infotainment systems are really just amazing. Touring through the North hall at CES today, one had the opportunity to briefly test infotainment systems that rival the best tablets on the market today. And why not. It seems there will come a day when there is a powerful application processor in everything we own.
In the case of vehicles, the economics are fairly simple. Car manufacturers need to sell you new cars with new features. The infotainment system is more tangible to the consumer than things like Electronic Stability Control, Brake Force Distribution, or even the hocus-pocus of mileage figures. They can charge a couple thousand dollars (when compared to an android tablet for $199 – $499) in even the lower end cars. And the consumer gets to amortize the cost over several years of car payments. Like everything automotive, today’s luxury is tomorrow’s basic feature, but for now, infotainment is clearly on display as the way forward.
At CES, automotive manufactures like Ford, Audi, Bentley, Lexus, and Hyundai are featuring concept cars and production cars at CES 2013 that contain interactive systems or infotainment systems or center stacks. The cars feature leading edge application processors, huge high resolution displays (sometimes more than one), Wi-Fi, Dolby 5.0, streaming capabilities, and operating systems that are more intuitive than many tablets and smartphones available on the market today.
Starting at the beginning, so to say, we look to QNX. QNX is featuring a production Bentley Continental that contains an infotainment system that just rocks. The entire system is running on QNX’s OS and the main engine is a Texas Instruments OMAP 5 application processor. Recall that the OMAP 5 was first demonstrated at last year’s CES and has just in the last five months made its way to the developers. Given consumer products’ short lifecycles, it won’t be too long until we get one of these application processors into our labs (just not from a Bentley!).
After being impressed by the Bentley at QNX, it was suggested that I have a look at the new 2013 Audi A7 production model. The A7 was kitted out with a Delphi center stack that was also running a QNX operating system on a Texas Instruments 32 nm OMAP5430 application processor.
The main screen was capable of being split into four separate subscreens with independent content on each screen. We had The Hobbit streaming on one screen, a navigation system on the other, music play lists and audio controls on a third, and an internet page on the fourth.
The system has the ability to push independent content to the headrest mounted displays for the passengers in the rear seat or vice versa. A passenger can, from their smartphone or tablet, push content to the main system and share it with other passengers. All of this was controlled from a very ergonomic control hub that was located just aft of the shifter, thus allowing the driver to remain focused on the driving. An infotainment system of equal stature was also observed in the new 2013 Audi RS 5.
Delphi commented that not only are they deploying systems utilizing OMAP processors, but they are also using the NVIDIA Tegra application processors (multi-generations).
2013 Ford Focus ST
Ford has been a bit of a leader in this space for a while now, since they first introduced their MyFord Touch system. Here at CES 2013, they are featuring the 2013 Ford Focus production model with a Linux-based OS and a 32 nm Intel Core i5 processor. Seriously, a Core i5. This is a $20,000 MSRP vehicle. Not a Bentley, not an Audi A7, but a Ford Focus. The consumer is getting a fantastic infotainment experience in one of the lower priced Fords.
Boundless debates could start over QNX being in a Bentley while Linux is in a Ford Focus, but other than this offhand remark, we will leave it to the developer forums to discuss.
Similar and equally impressive systems were observed in the new 2013 Lexus LS (first pic) and the Hyundai Veloster Turbo (second pic). Hyundai had adopted the Android operating system for their vehicles, which was obvious from the look and feel of their screens.
We’re not selling or reviewing automobiles, but are thoroughly impressed at how sophisticated these infotainment systems are. When people talk about the increasing amount of semiconductor content in automobiles, they are not kidding. In addition to a ton of chips dedicated to power management and local networking, we now have higher priced items from application processors to Class D audio amplifiers. Based upon the conversations with the automotive OEMs and their tier 1 suppliers, we can expect the majority of new vehicles in 2014 and forward to be featuring these new infotainment systems – meaning that consumer uptake is about to enter the high growth phase.
It appears the semiconductor suppliers have found another outlet to generate revenue for their multi-core application processors. Albeit, these processors may have to bare the Q100 rating to meet automotive standards (which could be a simple matter of qualifying devices and then binning them accordingly at test), these processors could have found themselves a nice market that is not so subject to the low margin, price erosion business that comes about in the smartphone and tablet market. Rather than an initial ASP of $25 per unit eroding to $10 ASP in 12 months, perhaps the automotive market allows the big semi firms to hold their $25 ASP price for the duration of the vehicle’s lifetime and thus recover more of their investments.
When you finally get behind the wheel of your new Bentley Continental, your Lexus LS, or your Ford Focus, enjoy the ride and remember there is a lot of semi horsepower inside your dash. Just remember to keep your eyes on the road!