In-Vehicle Infotainment is a term that defines the entertainment and informative applications that are made available in automobiles. IVI allows display screens in cars and hence, the driver, access to maps, GPS, media players, electronic dashboards, engine diagnostics, internet and social networking, and integration with handheld devices, and are the new generation of infotainment in automobile development today.

The current generation of In-Vehicle Infotainment can give you accurate engine diagnostics, in the event of a car breakdown, and can direct you to the nearest service station to report the problem. Things like remote ignition give you the option of warming up the car’s engine before you actually get into the car.
Going by the rate of development in IVI, the future of the automobile industry lies with the intelligent car. It would come as no surprise, in the not-so-distant future, when your car plays a role very similar to a personal assistant. A couple of years from now, it would be wrong not to expect your car to give you suggestions about preparing for the weather, send e-mails, schedule meetings, give you reminders, etc, some of which are features already being worked on while you read this.

Design Challenges
The following are some of the challenges faced during the design and development of modern IVI solutions.

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Ensuring fast Boot-up
The issue of boot-up time can be a major decision maker when it comes to IVI. The average boot-up time for IVI on the MeeGo platform was approximately 15 seconds. Imagine switching off your engine at a signal and attempting to restart when the signal turns green. An almost-zero delay is preferred, where the instrument cluster becomes functional in less than one second.

While Real-Time Operating Systems [RTOS] are capable of fast boot-up, but a full-fledged Linux OS like MeeGo needs customization to reduce the boot-up time. There are solutions that run a full-fledged Linux OS along with an RTOS which is capable of a fast boot-up to solve this issue for designers, but the designer has to ensure that all the hardware diagnostics are done to ensure smooth operation.

Efficient CPU Usage
Instrument Clusters should be able to acquire information from the various sensors on the automobile and render the data immediately on the display without any delay. High-quality graphics require a high amount of CPU usage and processing, unless there’s a dedicated GPU available to crunch those numbers. Multi-threaded applications require an advanced CPU with multi-core architecture that can handle IVI applications efficiently.

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Display Management
Multiple displays in IVI prove to be a better option for displaying information of several types. For example, the front display shows the instrument cluster, while a movie plays on the left-rear display, and music plays on the right-rear display.

The ability to run numerous applications on a central device and handle multiple displays requires lot of processing, and an efficient graphics processor capable of handling high amounts of rendering. Many IVI-customized boards provide outstanding graphics processing and drivers capable of such operations.

Design Considerations in IVI
IVI solutions, still being in a nascent phase, face considerable drawbacks in mass production. Listed below are some of the key design considerations.

Time to Market
Every automotive manufacturer’s concern in developing an instrument cluster is to be able to provide a solution that matches the specifications of the car, and meets the expectation of the driver. Car manufacturers that have migrated to the use of digital displays can benefit from the technology innovations available in both IVI hardware and software. These solutions facilitate the customization of instrument clusters for various models of cars without causing delays in the designing of customized dashboards.

While developing custom solutions, reusability is given very less consideration. If base components are reusable, then porting it to new designs, platforms and subsequent revisions become possible. Reusability was not considered as a key aspect in software design primarily because hardware and midlevel software platforms did not follow any specific standards, and varied mostly due to technological differences and cost factors. Aiming to make all base components reusable reduces cost and time-to-market of solutions for OEMs.

The high rate of advancements in technology makes it important to develop solutions that can be extensible. The advancements/upgrades, while adding value, must be capable of being incorporated into existing products and solutions. Constraints in hardware/software may not always allow this to be possible. Creating an entirely new system just to add minor technological improvements is not a workable solution. Solutions must always be extensible for improvement and must be able to include new features and technologies.

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Digital displays provide a good intuitive user interface by providing touch-based control. With the advancements in IVI, the amount of information available (instrument clusters, engine diagnostics, fuel calculators, etc.) is a lot more than what a single screen can display. Allowing the manufacturer or the driver to customize these displays adds very high value to the solution.

Sirish Batchu, Head of Engineering, India Operations, Bosch Car Multimedia says, “When it comes to designing in-vehicle infotainment systems, the challenges are multifold. The systems have to be designed so that they are fit to be used inside the vehicle. Various aspects like driver distraction, reliability, robustness, fail safe operation, lifetime management, etc. have to be critically considered during the design. Not only the functionality but also the form-factor and aesthetics have to be critically considered since the infotainment systems are a part of the vehicle dashboard. The attention to the look and feel, the plastics, buttons, displays & HMI play an important role which comprise the overall design of the IVI systems.”

S Natarajan, Country Business Manager, Embedded Market, Intel South Asia added, “Longer design, development, testing & qualification cycles along with the lack of a widely used standard for IVI systems are amongst the major headaches for our design engineers. Here, at Intel, we foresee the need for cars to become increasingly intelligent and are utilizing our expertise in personal computing, software, security and cloud computing to drive innovation and enhance the in-vehicle experience as well driver and passenger safety.”

Hardware Considerations
The following points are an indicator of the hardware requirements for IVI. Mr Batchu explains, “The hardware components that are used inside these systems are expected to be Automotive-grade. Unlike the consumer electronics, which are predominantly used inside a safe domestic environment, the systems installed inside the vehicles are subject to very harsh conditions (e.g. temperature, dust, moisture, vibration, etc.). Moreover the lifetime expectancy of these components is also much higher since the IVI systems form an integral part of the car dash and are not in the typical use-and throw mould. To take an example, in the mobile phones (which is a comparable device considering the features), one can afford to experience a system hang which can be easily overcome by rebooting the device. However such a scenario is not acceptable in an automotive environment. Furthermore with the increasing software content towards realizing the features in these systems, it becomes very complex to meet the real-time performance requirements.”

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The main hardware requirements for an IVI system
• It should possess a processor of at least one gigahertz processing speed along with a dedicated Graphics Controller to support navigation, 2D and 3D displays.
• It should have a minimum of two channels of audio support with the possibility for multiple high resolution Graphics Display Unit.
• A CAN bus to interface within the vehicle network.
• Media-Oriented Systems Transport(MOST) for high speed video/audio signal transfer, Bluetooth, WiFi, and Ethernet connectivity.
• UART, USB connectors for various consumer electronics devices.
• Low power consumption.
• Should be able to support fast boot-up.
• Should be able to match automotive standards for In-Vehicle applications.
• The hardware should support at least one of the following operating systems: Linux, Android, Ubuntu, MeeGo, MontaVista.


A list of some of the leading Automotive-Specific hardware platforms
• Renesas R-Car H1 (Marzen)
• Freescale i.mx6q Sabre-light
• Freescale i.mx53 Sabre
• Freescale i.mx53 QSB
• Intel Atom Crossville


The way forward
The IVI systems are keeping pace with the latest and greatest developments in the mobile and the media electronics space and are now able to provide most of the features that are available in the smartphones. A few of the exciting features include navigation, internet & cloud connectivity, apps like facebook, twitter, etc., video functions, internet radio, smartphone integration, Voice recognition (Natural language), gesture recognition, multitouch displays, etc., Driver assistance functions like curve warning, traffic sign recognition, reverse parking assistance, surround view. Bluetooth hands-free and other phone functions are almost a given in al lthe systems nowadays. There are also Dual-View displays (where the driver and the co-passenger get to see different content due to their angle of viewing), Head-up Displays (HUDs) providing augmented reality applications on the vehicle windscreen which are increasingly becoming popular. There is no doubt that the way forward for IVI is a bright one.