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An Architecture for In-Vehicle Infotainment Systems

Suresh Marisetty is a software and systems architect at Intel. Durgesh Srivastava is silicon and systems architect for Intel's Low Power Embedded Products Division (LEPD). Joel Andrew Hoffmann is the Strategic Market Development Manager for Intel's In-Vehicle Infotainment Group.

Automotive manufacturers face a tremendous challenge in trying to bridge the historically long development cycles of a vehicle to the ever-changing I/O and multimedia demands of the consumer. The main function of the car's entertainment system or the head unit is enabling a variety of functions like navigation, radio, DVD players, climate control, Bluetooth, and so on. Further, with the promise of the connected car becoming a reality enabled through broad deployment of multimedia-capable mobile wireless technologies, the automotive industry sees an opportunity to deliver new value-added services to the consumer. However, with today's proprietary head-unit solutions they have limited ability to offer such services. A cost-effective solution to address this need is to use standards-based platform technologies that can take advantage of the huge ecosystem built around PC standards and consumer-oriented applications and services. The platforms based on Intel architecture have been evolving in tandem with various I/O and multimedia technologies and have been adopting these technologies in a seamless way. An in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) platform is an architecture based on these building blocks, but with optimizations for the automotive environment.

This article presents the architecture of this platform for the IVI market segment powered by the Intel Atom processor family of low-power embedded processors and standards-based platform hardware and software ecosystem. An overview of the key technology blocks that make up the Intel-based IVI platform is presented, followed by a brief description of the challenges faced in optimization and incorporating these into the Intel-based IVI platform. In addition, the opportunities presented by the Intel-based IVI platform for future usage models are also highlighted. The challenges and opportunities are presented both from a hardware and software perspective to meet the power, performance, size, differentiation, and other needs of the automotive environment and usage models.

Intel-Based IVI Platform Overview

The framework or stack for an Intel-based IVI platform consists consists of software and hardware components with well defined interfaces between them to boot an operating system (OS) supporting the key application functionality of an automotive head-unit, as in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Stack components for an Intel-based IVI platform

The following is the brief description of each of the components of the stack:

  • Hardware Layer: The core part of the hardware layer is comprised of Intel Atom processor with all the necessary hardware and firmware to boot any off-the-shelf or embedded OS. This layer is further complemented with the inclusion of a set of automotive OEM-specific I/O devices, such as MOST/CAN buses, connected through an industry standard I/O fabric, such as PCI Express. The use of the Intel Atom processor-based SoC solution facilitates the inclusion of many other extended inputs/outputs available for the Intel architecture platform, without affecting the core platform functions. This allows the car manufacturers to be able to provide end solutions with many options with little to no additional cost or software development effort, facilitating product differentiation. A typical Intel-based IVI platform configuration built around the Intel Atom processor is as in Table 1.

    Table 1: Typical Intel-based IVI platform configuration

  • OS Layer: Given the platform's Intel architecture compatibility lineage, a range of operating systems are enabled, including embedded real-time OS (RTOS) and commercial off-the-shelf operating systems that run on a standard PC platform. This layer also includes drivers that are specific to automotive I/O.
  • Middleware Layer: The Intel-based IVI platform middleware can include a rich set of components and interfaces to realize all functional areas of the application layer, such as Bluetooth with support for various profiles and CAN/MOST protocol stacks.
  • Application Layer: The applications include the ones designed into many mobile Internet devices (MIDs) or handheld devices like Web browsers, calendar, Bluetooth phone, vehicle management functionalities, multimedia entertainment system, and so on. This layer can provide a rich set of applications and many customization options that conform to Intel architecture binary format.
  • HMI Layer: The Human Machine Interface (HMI) is the central interface to the user of the IVI system. The HMI has control of the display of the HMI Head Unit and has the responsibility to process and react to all user inputs coming into the system, such as speech recognition and touch screen input.

In regards to the overall Intel-based IVI platform stack itself, the key challenges are the integration or seamless porting of various applications and middleware to the automotive-specific user interface standards. The ecosystem of this software includes independent software, OS vendors (ISVs/OSVs) or the Linux Open Source community.

The automotive environment requires hardware components that are highly reliable. Intel is now offering the Intel Atom processors with industrial temperature options (minus 40- to 85-degrees C). For further platform differentiation beyond the solution from Intel, the car OEM may be limited to picking third-party vendor hardware IP blocks that meet the reliability requirements.

ISVs and OSVs can provide powerful user interface (HMI) tools or development kits, to enable easy OEM HMI customization across their product line. Third-party hardware vendors can provide various automotive-specific I/O solutions to allow easy car OEM product differentiation. In addition, it is a new opportunity for application developers to port Intel architecture applications to the Intel-based IVI platform ecosystem and maximize reuse and applicability of their software across a number of Intel architecture platforms.

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