Infotainment: What’s Next & the Challenge of Testing It

Add voice-based assistants and gesture control to device connectivity and ADAS configurations and you create quite a task for those planning to test and verify systems.

By Murray Slovick, Contributing Technical Editor
[Sponsored by Rohde & Schwarz]

Infotainment systems have become a central hub for a number of vehicle functions, all running on a large touch display generally in the center of the dashboard. With vehicle and driver entertainment and information converging, these systems are integrating functions that were formerly only available independently. Examples include in-vehicle connectivity with wireless devices (e.g., Bluetooth for audio and smart phones and near-field communications for fobs), controller-area-network (CAN) communications from distributed ECUs, video data from in-vehicle cameras, and details on what is occurring in advanced-driver-assistance-system (ADAS) configurations for lane control and accident avoidance. This is all on top of a multitude of multimedia I/Os including analog AM/FM radio, digital radio, analog/digital TV, GPS data for navigational systems, and digital satellite audio reception.


BMW’s Navigate Door-to-Door

BMW’s Navigate Door-to-Door is a new feature designed to guide users on the final leg of their journey and back to their car when they are ready. Once the car is parked, the driver will receive a message on the car’s display confirming that their smartphone is now ready to provide directions to continue on foot. (Source: BMW)

Still More Variables 

Different regional standards raise the complexity even more, forcing new designs to coordinate and integrate the different versions required for different countries without redundancy.

Going forward, other functions must be factored into the evolution of the infotainment system. These include:

  • Gesture-recognition: Widely expected to be among the next generation of in-car user interfaces, gesture recognition is a replacement for touchscreen controls. The idea is to determine whether the driver or passenger has performed a recognizable hand or finger gesture. Hand movements that could be interpreted as in-car commands include raising or lowering a hand to change the temperature via the climate control system or the driver tilting his head left or right to turn the volume of the stereo up or down. A camera placed in the steering wheel or on the dashboard is programmed to “watch” for these gestures. When it sees them, it sends a signal to the head unit processor (or an in-vehicle computer) that handles the connected hardware. The data is analyzed to determine what the driver is doing and ascertain which central information display controls the driver wants to adjust. It then activates the appropriate features.
  • Augmented reality heads-up displays (HUDs): To read an instrument cluster, for at least a brief moment, you have to take your eyes off the road and readjust to the shorter visual distance. All of this requires at least half a second. Averting your gaze for a half second at a speed of 75 mph means you will be driving blind for about 110 feet. A HUD, on the other hand, shows information exactly where you need it—directly in your line of sight so you can keep your eyes on the road. Typically, HUDs show useful information, such as vehicle speed, at the lower edge of a car’s windshield. The information is translucent and doesn’t interfere with the driver’s view of the road, making it unnecessary to look down at the instrument cluster for much of the time. Automakers are developing augmented-reality (AR) HUDs, which enrich the projection on the windshield with a layer of information (such as navigation details), which appear “on the street” in front of the car. This means that driving direction and lane changes suggested by the HUD are actually lined up visually with the road itself. AR dashboards also will be able to identify objects in front a vehicle and tell the driver how far they are away from the object.
  • Smart Assistants: A lot of auto manufacturers now offer voice-recognition software that can be used to control infotainment systems through an elaborate set of commands. Think Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Contana, and Google’s Assistant. The integration of such voice-based personal-digital-assistant capabilities right from the infotainment system is the next big effort to attract consumers, as it will open a new dimension of connectivity between driver and vehicle. Brands like Hyundai, Ford, Mercedes, Infiniti, Nissan, Volkswagen, and BMW already integrate or will soon be integrating the Alexa voice assistant into their vehicles. By 2022, according to the research firm IHS Markit, nearly 90% of new cars will have some type of speech-recognition capability. Of those cars, 75% will also have cloud-based voice control provided by companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google.

RF Testing on Automotive Infotainment Devices


What used to be the car radio has evolved from adding a cassette player to state of the art entertainment on the move. All this while keeping driver & passengers connected. The design challenge is to bring all the communication and broadcast standards into a small form factor that fits in the dashboard of the car. The RF modules need to support multiple standards in a single assembly…

Download free white paper

Test Implications: The Need for Flexibility

The new functionality of infotainment systems provides key competitive advantages. Such features are in high demand by consumers, making their reliable and safe operation imperative for automakers. As in other automotive applications, mechanical or mechatronic components are being replaced by electronic components in infotainment systems. To serve their customer base, automakers and Tier 1s must test and validate all systems and functions to ensure safety and meet performance standards. As the complexity of these systems continues to grow at a rapid pace, trying to test systems and interfaces effectively poses a considerable technical challenge.

For example, engineers who have been working with CAN communication and analog signals will have to learn to use test and validation tools that support all types of I/O.  The tried and true hardware and software test tools used in the past simply won’t meet the demands of these new systems.

Potential test problems to be considered include adjacent-channel interference. A signal can be degraded in bands located near each other in spectrum because of inadequate transmit or receive filtering. An example of issues that may have to be overcome is LTE, WLAN, and Bluetooth overlapping and adjacent-channel leakage.  The implemented bands depend on regions, countries, and government regulations.

On the software side, infotainment-system software is developed and changed frequently as more features are implemented.  A fundamental challenge for the development teams is introduced when a software change is made and needs to be validated and tested to ensure that other functions are not affected. The employed test equipment must feature upward compatibility to be able to verify the proper functioning of the entire infotainment system as features are added. Test tools will require the flexibility to adapt to testing multiple pieces with the same hardware as well as adapting to new standards.

What are the lessons from all of this? The architecture of the test systems will have to be based on highly flexible application-specific modules, allowing test sequences to be optimized and reducing effort and costs (Fig. 2). Similarly, a software library serving a series of modules will allow engineers to share and reuse code for common operations across test systems.


The ATSI100 system generates every test signal separately in application-specific modules. (Source: Rohde & Schwarz)

The flexible modular test system approach prepares everyone for new infotainment standards that may be developed. The new standards can be integrated into the test sequence by simply adding a specific function module. This aspect allows the modules to be installed close to the test environment, where the individual test signals are needed. But they can still be controlled and monitored from a PC via a standard LAN connection using a graphical user interface.

Test systems also must be ready to handle a wide spectrum of I/O, such as CAN, video, audio and RF, to prepare for sensor fusion technology. Sensor fusion promises to be as enabling a technology for infotainment and instrument clusters as it is for body electronics and the powertrain. Yet it is still evolving, which leads to complexities in testing. Further complicating this challenge, the sensors themselves are constantly changing as accuracy and object resolution improves. That impacts antenna size, bandwidth, and the level of power transmitted.

These changes may require test developers to anticipate new standards before they are approved and specifications are completed. Standardized platforms may be best suited for this challenge if they provide fast and cost-efficient solutions for current testing tasks but also permit a flexible response to future requirements. No matter what form they take, however, test solutions will be a core part of the industry-wide effort to develop safe and marketable vehicles for the next decade.

RF Testing on Automotive Infotainment Devices


What used to be the car radio has evolved from adding a cassette player to state of the art entertainment on the move. All this while keeping driver & passengers connected. The design challenge is to bring all the communication and broadcast standards into a small form factor that fits in the dashboard of the car. The RF modules need to support multiple standards in a single assembly…

Download free white paper

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