How the Integrated Cockpit Approach Is Redefining Infotainment Architecture

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By Maite Bezerra | 3Q 2020 | IN-5890

With the upsurge in smartphones and tablets and the fast Time to Market (TTM) cycle of their technologies, customers have become more demanding concerning their infotainment expectations. Drivers now expect their vehicles to deliver the same User Interface (UI) experiences their smartphones, smart TVs, smart speakers, and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices do. As a consequence, most trends in the infotainment segment derive from efforts to implement consumer device technologies in vehicles. However, the implementation of these functionalities increases hardware complexity, posing challenges to the legacy architecture of vehicles. The separated instrument cluster and center stack Electronic Control Units (ECUs) architecture are no longer suitable for modern cars due to the increasing interconnectivity of functions, information, and services. Moreover, proprietary, closed systems are declining in interest and giving place to open standards-based systems with connectivity and downloadable apps.

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The Need for Centralized Domains

NEWS


With the upsurge in smartphones and tablets and the fast Time to Market (TTM) cycle of their technologies, customers have become more demanding concerning their infotainment expectations. Drivers now expect their vehicles to deliver the same User Interface (UI) experiences their smartphones, smart TVs, smart speakers, and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices do. As a consequence, most trends in the infotainment segment derive from efforts to implement consumer device technologies in vehicles. However, the implementation of these functionalities increases hardware complexity, posing challenges to the legacy architecture of vehicles. The separated instrument cluster and center stack Electronic Control Units (ECUs) architecture are no longer suitable for modern cars due to the increasing interconnectivity of functions, information, and services. Moreover, proprietary, closed systems are declining in interest and giving place to open standards-based systems with connectivity and downloadable apps.

Hardware Architecture Implications

IMPACT


Integrated Cockpit: Traditionally, each new vehicle functionality or application would be added into an individual ECU that would become a new component of the vehicle architecture. The duplications of subsystems inside each ECU are not only costly, but also power inefficient. Moreover, due to the various interconnections among them, the upgrade of individual ECUs is time consuming and challenging, as a change in an ECU can affect another ECU. There is a desire to move from discrete ECUs for the head unit and the cluster to a cockpit ECU that integrates not only both systems but possibly also Advaned Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) ECUs, such as driver monitoring systems. This simplifies development and reduces Bill of Material (BOM) costs by combining parameters in a single chip and paves the way to streamline the communication channel between driver and passenger features. However, cross-domain cockpit solutions require all displays and operating components to be merged in a holistic UI in a single piece of hardware that can be updated on an ongoing basis, demanding powerful computing.

High Computing Performance: The focal point of innovation in vehicles has shifted toward the enhancement of the drivers' experience via the use of multiple interconnected high-resolution displays, digital dashboards, and Heads-Up Displays (HUD) with turn-by-turn navigation, voice assistants, and Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled personalization, among other functionalities. The substantial amount of information to process and reproduce in useful ways requires robust and flexible hardware solutions with high-performance graphics capabilities and a broad range of interfaces. A cost-optimized manner of running this range of functionalities is by using Systems-on-Chips (SoCs) that can efficiently support various computational elements in a heterogeneous architecture that combines multiple Microprocessing Units (MPUs), accelerators, and cores to process computational elements efficiently.

Hardware-Level Virtualization: The automotive industry is approaching the consolidation of increasingly complex and heterogeneous hardware subsystems—e.g., the In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) system, instrument cluster, and heads-up display—onto a single SoC with mixed-criticality (safety-critical and non-critical) requirements, which threatens the operability of the entire system. Additionally, open architecture approaches pose challenges to safety, such as a hacked Android application communicating to safety-critical subsystems. This creates a need for isolating different applications, so safety-related functionalities always have priority in accessing the system's Central Processing Unit (CPU). While these issues can be addressed with software-level virtualization, it considerably affects the system performance due to high resource overhead. Therefore, virtualization has become a requirement to guarantee safety.

Implications to the Ecosystem

RECOMMENDATIONS


Today, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are still cost-driven and often tend to select low-cost hardware and lower range processors, a strategy that will have to change if they are to deploy integrated cockpit with applications that can be upgraded Over-the-Air (OTA). Moreover, OEMs, as well as Tier 1s, have traditionally engineered IVI and instrument cluster applications separately, so the consolidation of both ECUs demands the merge of different departments with distinct engineering and safety requirements.

The merge of domains has been challenging for OEM suppliers, as they suddenly became responsible for offering a consolidated cockpit system with different criticality and software requirements. Therefore, Tier 1s and Tier 2s are having to partner with ane another to achieve synergies to keep up with the electronic needs (e.g., Continental and Pioneer). These unprecedented collaborations between competitors will become more common. However, companies will continue to commercialize their offerings separately, allowing OEMs to select a Tier 1 as lead developer.

Silicon vendors must provide high-performance, heterogeneous SoCs to power all in-vehicle displays, and their pixels requirements, and the subsystems from consolidated ECUs while meeting temperature resistance requirements, safety criteria, and regulatory mandates.

 

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