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Advances in auto infotainment systems

Posted: 18 Mar 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:infotainment system  GPS  digital audio broadcasting  MOST  SerDes 

Today, modern standard processors with sufficiently inexpensive compute power are replacing the older ASIC coprocessors which were dedicated to a specific reception system. Now the actual radio front-end makes the receive signal available to these processors in digital form. Since the system-specific tasks are realised in the software, engineers gain considerable freedom when it comes to designing the RF portion of the system.

Employing standardised interfaces (such as I2S or LVDS) to the greatest possible extent makes it possible to configure and scale systems very flexibly. Now the front-ends do not exclusively support a single reception system (such as FM), but rather flexibly cover diverse standards. This eliminates the redundancy that was required because a receiver had to be available for each system. All that is needed now is a universal tuner. The powerful processor employs software to accomplish the system-relevant tasks, such as demodulation and decoding.

Thus, this new centralized structure (figure 2) solves a series of problems.

Figure 2: The RF to Bits architecture uses one piece of hardware to support different standards.

One hardware unit for different standards
The use of front-ends for different standards helps to avoid redundant structures, which, in turn, significantly reduces the number of components and leads to lower overall system costs. A base band processor with standardised interfaces for all applications and systems can be configured for different regional requirements. The application-specific software is only activated when it is required. Therefore, compute power only needs to be available for applications that are currently active.

The system-specific functions, such as demodulation and decoding, are realised exclusively in firmware, which makes the system flexible. Software updatessoftware over the airenable adaptations to new requirements and new standards, even after the design has begun or is in the field.

As a result, this structure also provides upgrade capabilities. Now it is possible to react more quickly to changes in customer requirements and to new standards without having to make significant hardware changes. That flexibility, in turn, increases customer satisfaction over the product's lifespan. The compact hardware structures of this approach require less volume in the head unit, again because redundancies are eliminated. In sum, one front-end now covers different standards and systems.

There is another benefit that should not be underestimated. The reduction in power consumption from the lower number of ICs helps to mitigate higher temperature problems.

Finally, offering better-organised structures and well-defined interfaces between front-ends and the base band accelerates the design time to market. Analogue and digital blocks can be developed independently. The use of standardised interfaces means that no fixed assignment is required between the RF front-end and the base band, and this also improves scalability.

Suitable architecture for communications
Today the entire auto infotainment system has emancipated itself from being a simple, self-contained radio navigation system to become a complex, distributed system. It now accesses the functionality offered by the many control units integrated into the vehicle and then processes the information from these different sources in parallel. A system interlinked in this way requires a suitable architecture for communications, because there are too many individual signals to realise with point-to-point connections. To accomplish all this simultaneous activity, scalability is required.

Besides the proprietary solutions employed in the not-too-distant past, bus systems or communication protocols such as LIN, CAN, FlexRay, and MOST (and recently Ethernet-based systems) have become established. Multiple bus systems of both the same and different types are used in vehicles. For example, a LIN bus controls the interior lighting and maintains communications with control units in the doors and the roof liner. Multiple additional CAN buses perform communications for engine and suspension control as well as comfort and convenience functions. Finally, the MOST protocol links the components that comprise the multimedia infotainment system with different audio amplifiers, tuners, and CD/DVD changers.

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