Automotive Infotainment Systems Demand Diverse Design Solutions

With car ownership expected to decline, due to the advent of ride-sharing and self-driving cars, manufacturers are looking to more powerful infotainment systems as competitive differentiators.

 

By Paul Pickering, Contributing Editor

Texas Instruments

What’s the future of the driving experience? Autonomous vehicles are getting all the attention, but consumers remain skeptical. A sizable percentage of respondents in Deloitte’s 2018 Global Automotive Consumer Study expressed concerns about the safety of driverless cars: numbers ranged from 22% in Mexico to 57% in Japan.

While the world waits for self-driving vehicles, a quieter revolution has been taking place: the rise of infotainment and the connected car. Infotainment options run the gamut. They include digital radio, rear seat entertainment, voice recognition, and high-end audio. Current-generation vehicles link to smartphones via Bluetooth, alert drivers about traffic problems, provide navigational help, and offer emergency roadside assistance.

Figure 1

Figure 1: The infotainment system bundles many formerly separate functions into a single platform. (Source: Jacinto DRAx Infotainment SoCs)

The digital cockpit bundles information and entertainment into a multifunction package (Fig. 1). To the driver, the most visible change is the replacement of the traditional instrument cluster by a digital display; the center console contains a similar display for entertainment and navigational information. The digital displays are reconfigurable, with larger screens, tailored display content, and a picture-realistic look. Higher-end vehicles often add a head-up display (HUD) of key driving information, so that the driver can concentrate on the road ahead.

Infotainment Adds ADAS Functions

The infotainment system also helps improve automobile safety, the top priority for consumers. In the Deloitte study mentioned earlier, respondents worldwide gave their highest rankings to technology that helped in avoiding collisions or dangerous situations.

Advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) include a broad range of technologies that boost safety by providing automated help to drivers. Many of the more advanced technologies are a key part of the autonomous vehicle roadmap. But informational ADAS, which increases safety by providing the driver with high-quality information from audio, video, radar, and other sensors, is available now. The infotainment system can play a key role in informational ADAS. For example, it’s able to generate a seamless 360° view of the vehicle surroundings from multiple independent high-definition (HD) video streams from front- rear-, and side-mounted cameras.

Revolutionize the automotive cockpit
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Designed for automotive safety and robustness, TI’s Jacinto 6 automotive processors are a first step to help redefine the traditional infotainment processor architecture. Download this white paper to learn more about how Jacinto 6 processors are revolutionizing the digital cockpit.

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Scalable Solutions Simplify Path to the Fully Integrated Digital Cockpit

A large and diverse set of features falls under the infotainment category, and new features are appearing yearly. But there’s one small fly in the ointment: Surveys over several years have shown that, although consumers like the conveniences offered by the connected car and its digital cockpit, they’re resistant to paying extra for these features. Actually, two flies: There’s also no equivalent to the fuel economy or emissions regulations that spurred earlier innovations such as electronic engine control.

As a result, designers are looking for that elusive combination of high performance and low cost. A scalable family of devices based on a common software platform gives system designers the best of both worlds. Entry-level devices provide a low-cost solution for minimum-function vehicles. As feature sets increase, the infotainment system can migrate to devices with successively greater performance, while making the most of their existing software investment.

The Jacinto Family Targets Infotainment Applications

A hardware platform that can satisfy the full spectrum of infotainment applications must be able to handle 2D and 3D graphics, process incoming high-speed video streams, drive high-definition displays, interface to a wide range of input/output devices, and accommodate numerous wired and wireless communication standards.

Manufacturers are responding to the challenge. Texas Instruments’ Jacinto DRAx infotainment applications processors support the full range of automotive digital cockpit solutions, including all of the required video, user-interface and communication functions.

Jacinto processors use a common-core platform and heterogeneous architecture. They’re system-on-chip (SoC) devices with numerous features, because even an entry-level infotainment application performs a wide range of tasks and requires significant processing power. Although the Jacinto 6 Entry (DRA71x) processor is optimized for the most cost-sensitive applications, it still contains a single-core ARM Cortex-A15 RISC CPU with Neon extensions, and a digital-signal-processor (DSP) subsystem based on the TI C66x VLIW floating-point core. Other features (Fig. 2) include:

  • Image and video accelerator (IVA) that supports up to 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second (fps)
  • Image processing unit (IPU) with two dual Cortex-M4 subsystems
  • Graphic processing unit (GPU) to accelerate 2D and 3D graphics applications
  • BB2D graphics accelerator subsystem for 2-D graphics applications
  • Programmable Real-Time Unit and Industrial Communication Subsystem (PRU-ICSS) to provide fast responses to real-time events and peripheral interfaces without burdening the other SoC cores
  • Video-input-processing (VIP) module to capture and process up to two video streams
  • Display subsystem (DSS) to process video output streams
  • Multiple communication blocks: I2C, IrDA, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, PCIe, DCAN, Gigabit Ethernet; eMMC/SD/SDIO
Figure 2

Figure 2: Even an entry-level infotainment application processor such as the DRA71x must include a wide range of functions. (Source: TI DRA718 Datasheet)

 

Other Jacinto family members span mid-level to high-end applications. Ranked by increasing performance, devices include Jacinto 6 Eco (DRA72x); Jacinto 6 (DRA74x); Jacinto 6 EP; and Jacinto 6 Ex (DRA75x).

A high-end device such as the Jacinto 6 EP integrates a second TMS320C66x DSP core to allow image manipulation technologies such as dynamically stitching multiple cameras into a single, surround, or overhead view. The EP also supports additional radio applications including multi-tuner configurations, audio and speech processing, voice recognition, and active noise control (ANC).

Moving on up, the Jacinto 6 Ex adds a second DSP core, plus the TI Vision AccelerationPac with two embedded vision engines (EVEs). These additions enable the device to run infotainment and informational ADAS applications simultaneously without compromising the performance of either system.

Not surprisingly, such complex functionality demands a large package. The DRA71x is packaged in a 538-pin ball-grid-array (BGA); the other devices require a 760-pin BGA. Figure 3 shows the functional blocks for the different Jacinto parts.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Each successive Jacinto model includes additional features for increased functionality. (Source: “Informational ADAS as software upgrade to today’s infotainment systems”)

 

The newest Jacinto 6 Plus processors further extend the reach of the Jacinto 6 family with higher performance and additional features. Each Plus device comes in a 784-pin BGA and builds on the feature set of the original part, adding the 6 Plus (DRA76xP), the 6 EP Plus (DRA770P-DRA773P), and the 6 Ex Plus (DRA774-DRA777P) to the Jacinto 6 family.

The Jacinto 6 Plus devices maintain the common-core platform design of existing devices, so system architects can reuse existing software, plus add additional infotainment features:

• HD image processing
• Expanded interface choices: CSI-2 cameras or flexible data-rate CAN (CAN-FD1)
• Additional multi-radio tuner configurations
• Expanded post-processing algorithms for audio and speech
• Other differentiated technologies such as driver monitoring systems (DMS)
• Support for multiple operating systems

The road to today’s digital cockpit
digital-cockpit

Read this blog to learn about the impact of connected car technology in digital cockpits of the latest vehicles and how OEMs are incorporating more advanced electronics and software in their designs.

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Software Plays a Key Role

Software is a major component of a modern automobile. A high-end vehicle includes more than 100 million lines of code—a number that will only increase.

The digital cockpit combines the functionality from several formerly separate electronic control units (ECUs) into one hardware platform, so developing and integrating the software constitutes a large part of the development cycle. Infotainment-system software is developed and changed frequently as more features are implemented, and any software changes must be validated and tested to ensure that they don’t affect other functions.

With the extremely diverse set of applications, it’s not surprising that a consistent, flexible, and robust software integrated development environment (IDE) is critically important for developing modules that can easily migrate between applications. A common IDE allows designers to add modules as needed for flexibility and maximum code reuse, reducing time to market.

For Jacinto, the IDE is Code Composer Studio, an Eclipse-based platform for TI’s DSPs, microcontrollers, and application processors. It includes a suite of tools—compilers, a source code editor, a debugger, simulators, and other modules—used to develop and debug embedded applications.

Figure 4 shows an overview of the Jacinto software development kit (SDK), which eases development for all DRA7x family devices. The kit maintains support for scalable Linux, RT-Linux Android-, and TI RTOS- based developments, including board support packages, documentation, libraries, utilities, code examples, and benchmarks.

Figure 4

Figure 4: The Jacinto SDK isolates the application code from the underlying hardware and supports several operating systems. (Source: Processor Software Development Kit for DRAx Jacinto Processors)

The SDK enables seamless reuse and migration of software across a variety of TI processors. Infotainment modules include software-defined radio solutions for AM/FM, HD radio, DAB, DRM and audio processing solutions, integration of informational ADAS, and other auto-specific features and demos.

Infotainment Looks to a Bright Future

What’s in the future for infotainment? Big changes are coming to the automotive market. Upgrading to the latest model every few years is on the decline. According to research from the University of Michigan, car ownership has been declining in the U.S. since it peaked in 2006. With the rise in ride-sharing, and self-driving cars on the horizon, this trend is expected to continue and even accelerate. At the same time, the average lifecycle of vehicles has risen from around nine years in 2008 to 11 in 2017.

As even entry-level vehicles start to include powerful hardware platforms and configurable displays as standard infotainment equipment, manufacturers are looking to software as a source of competitive advantage. As broadband connectivity continues to spread, one potential option is to offer new features via over-the-air (OTA) software updates, similar to the way smartphones and tablets are upgraded today.

In a world of autonomous vehicles, exterior styling and performance become deemphasized, so infotainment becomes even more important as a point of differentiation. This trend is also encouraged by consumers, who will increasingly expect their vehicle infotainment system to function like their other information appliances—always connected and continually taking advantage of new updates and technology.

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