Issue: Jun 2007


How Digital Entertainment is Changing In-Vehicle Technology Trends



The Need for an Electrical Open Architecture

by James Hilton

Did you know that you might be riding around with an endangered species in your vehicle? If you look at your dashboard and see a tape deck slot, you may have a dinosaur riding along with you that is about to go extinct. And the compact disc (CD) player is next.

As early as 2012, in-vehicle CD players will likely disappear from the dashboard, just like the eight-track did and the tape deck so will. The explosion of digital music and other wireless technologies are redefining the vehicle interior. MP3 players will soon turn CD players into fossils, freeing up valuable real estate in the car's dash to make way for more advanced infotainment species.

The portability of digital media has propelled us into the entertainment era and it is changing consumers' daily life. Consumer electronics and the vehicle are on an evolutionary collision course and everyday life is speeding up the inevitable convergence of the two. We've seen it with the 8-track, cassette player, CD player, VHS and DVD player -- and you'll see it with the MP3 player, as well. Whether it is a car, truck or commercial vehicle, consumer electronics functionality in the vehicle will be wanted sooner, rather than later.

Internal studies indicate online music downloads sales will overtake traditional CD sales in the next coming years. By 2010, 70 percent of the CD- based audio systems will include MP3 capability. In five years, the possibility of CD players disappearing is likely, though many automakers may not phase them completely out of the vehicle until 2015. Siemens VDO is developing 2012 model year systems with CD players integrated into infotainment options. However, if an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) customer takes a very aggressive approach, they could go extinct sooner, saving a potential $20 to $40 per vehicle.

The die-off of CD players will not only save OEMs money, it will free up prime property in the vehicle's center stack, where most navigation screens, HVAC and radio controls are located. Due to a CD player's size and shape, it is often difficult to package everything into this area. Federal safety standards require infotainment displays to be located as high as possible in the center stack to ensure drivers do not lose sight of the road when viewing the navigation screen. Doing away with the bulky CD player hardware packaging solves a variety of challenges and creates room for advanced interior design and styling opportunities.

Need for Open Electronic Architecture

Low cost digital handheld devices, like cell phones and personal display assistants (PDA) with navigation features and portable navigation solutions are flooding the market. Consumers want the latest personal technology advancements, from music players, cell phones and email to SMS and navigation, in one portable, upgradeable package. This can happen, but not without standardization. These consumer electronics trends are influencing the development of the vehicle's electronics architecture and there is a pressing need for an electrical open architecture to adapt these ever-evolving technologies.

With an open electronic architecture, a consumer's phone, music and navigation device can be integrated into the car audio system and its data available on the infotainment display. For cell phones, this will enable voice activated, hands-free calling, audible text messages and access to the phone's contact list, which can be viewed on the center stack display. Digital music in any form -- MP3 player, USB, cell phone -- and navigation systems will be integrated into the car in the same way. Not only will digital devices change a vehicle's electronic architecture, but online services, like traffic, weather, hotel booking and Internet access will soon find their way into the vehicle.

Making the Connection

Along with an open electronics architecture, there also is the need for seamless in-vehicle connectivity with consumer electronics products. The communication gap between device and car should be bridged wirelessly, using the car's information exchange devices.

The wireless connectivity bridge is being constructed by consumer technology services, such as WiFi and Bluetooth. When consumers climb into their cars, their cell phones, digital music devices and services are seamlessly, passively recognized and acknowledged by onboard infotainment electronics and their functions made readily available through the vehicle's human machine interface (HMI).

Interfacing with Innovations

The flood of technology vying for access into the vehicle makes the way the consumers interface with it extremely important. The HMI must be user- friendly, intuitive and, most importantly, safe.

Apple is a great example of a company who nailed the human machine interface concept with the iPOD. The iPOD's wild popularity is not simply a result of its innovative functionality, storage size and picture quality. Its human machine interface creates an emotional connection consumers now expect from the products they buy.

By bridging a consumers' motivation with a focused product offering, innovators create desire and relevance. A breakthrough technology with only a fraction of the Apple iPOD's success is the Segway. Arguably a revolution in personal transportation, its perceptual positioning and delivery to market fell short of expectations.

If done correctly, the integration of consumer electronic devices into the vehicle can provide that strong emotional connection we see driving today's purchase decisions. Simply having an iPod jack or a 110v power outlet as part of a comfort and convenience package could have the potential to turn a vehicle from a "nice to have" to a "must have" when a buyer is on the dealer floor.

However, carmakers must shorten the time-to-market to generate and take advantage of this emotional connection. The gap between the consumer electronics industry's six to 12 months product development and launch cycle and automotive industry's 18 to 36 months allows too much time for purchasing passions to cool.

Embracing an open electronic architecture, standard wireless connectivity and optimal human machine interface is a good way to keep the heat generated by consumer electronics advancements and create that emotional connection so desired in the vehicle purchasing process.

With more vehicles on the road and people spending an increasing amount of time in them, consumers are starting to show a growing desire for seamless connectivity between their daily lives and their vehicles. The automaker that quickens its stride and starts to evolve at the pace of consumer electronics will win over the consumer, take market share from the competitor and ensure its future healthy survival in the digital entertainment era.


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