Issue: Nov 2012


Advanced head units connect driver and car



by Nick Palmen

Infotainment specialist Harman has developed what it describes as its most advanced head units for BMW.

Automotive Industries (AI)
suggested to Harman’s Senior Vice President Engineering Kelei Shen that the company must be delighted to provide such a significant contribution to BMW.

Shen
: Absolutely. Harman is extremely fortunate to have an excellent and close working relationship with BMW and its engineers. We have been co-operating with BMW for over 10 years now, and in that time we have delivered branded premium sound systems, navigation systems and head units to the BMW Group. To launch this new system, which is based on our Premium platform is, we believe, a testament to our infotainment strategy to only deliver products that provide OEMs with the best green, connected and safe technologies. In addition, this product is part of our platform offering to serve all segments in infotainment with core three platform levels: Entry, Mid and Premium. Crucially, each level offers scalability to cover all customer demands.

AI
: So what is the product and how does it relate to Harman’s strategy?

Shen
: Our new two DIN Premium Head Unit platform is the heart of BMW’s ConnectedDrive, announced by BMW in the summer of this year. The product incorporates a range of industry firsts, including intuitive email and Office synchronization, as well the recording of voice memos and email dictation. It may sound like a cliché, but it really is one of the most advanced head units created. It was only possible through rigorous systems integration. First, let me explain the green element and how we ensured it was part of this product. We worked closely with BMW’s technical partners to maximize efficiency on both a silicon and a materials level. We have a range of technologies under a brand called GreenEdge™. It’s a comprehensive set of technologies that offer efficiency gains through a mix of novel design, intuitive software and power management, as well as lightweight materials. As an example the Premium Head Unit is specified with a magnesium chassis, which we believe is one of the first of its kind.

AI
: Connectivity must also be an important part of such a head unit. Could you explain this element?

Shen
: We had a clear aim for “seamless connectivity”. Together with BMW, we wanted to simplify the complexity of connecting to consumer devices. To achieve this, we even developed a proprietary piece of middleware that can support Bluetooth, WLAN, Edge and UTMS. There is now a much simpler Bluetooth pairing function and it is possible to connect two phones to the system. Above the middleware, we also integrated various connectivity features into the onboard applications in the most seamless way, such as real time traffic, internet radio etc. The key is to let the end-user enjoy the content with minimum effort.

AI
: So that leaves safety. What have you introduced with respect to that?

Shen
: Aside from making connectivity simpler, we looked at improving the human machine interface (HMI). There is the integration of Nuance’s Dragon Drive to increase the level of voice control. Without taking their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road, the driver can dictate short emails, texts or voice memos of up to two minutes and in six languages to be composed and sent. It’s all in real time too. We believe that this safer form of messaging is unique in the market today.

Also, by specifying the NVIDIA EMP9 graphics processor and combining this with Intel’s 1.3 GHz processing unit, we were able to increase clarity and detail of the HMI to the point where we could introduce ‘virtual’ 3D menus with a very smooth flow that help drivers quickly make choices and minimize distraction. It’s worth noting too that the head unit doesn’t just work in isolation from the rest of the car. There is a neat feature called High Guiding. It’s an automatically activated function that provides detailed information in the instrument cluster, central and head up displays of the next navigation instruction when you are within range - that’s 150 meters in a built up environment. So, the information is close to hand wherever you happen to be looking. You can also get more detailed information with a “bird’s eye” view at the approach of, say, an intersection. The navigation engine can also generate more realistic 3D ‘city models’. This means in certain urban areas you get a street level view, so you know exactly where you are at a glance and can compare it to the view outside.

AI
- There must have been challenges with such a complex product?

Shen
: Packaging all the features in the 2DIN head unit required significant expertise from our engineers. The challenge for the Premium Head Unit was to incorporate the DVD mechanism, a 200GB hard disc drive, internal amplifiers, processors and tuner as well as optical network components, all whilst ensuring the unit ran cool. We had to look at power management as well as the componentry to achieve this. That goes back to the GreenEdge technologies we discussed earlier. You can see the importance of our strategy. If we have connectivity, green and safety we can deliver “killer” products.

AI
: Despite all this connectivity, it is still a radio and media player? What developments have you introduced there?

Shen
: Of course entertainment is very much a part of Harman’s business outside of automotive. Occupants, both front and rear, now have the option for multiple audio and video playback simultaneously for different seats and another nice feature is “more like this” - a form of automated playlist generator. The unit has both analogue and digital tuners including SDARS, HD, DAB and DMB giving us compatibility for future.

AI
: Ensuring future proofing must be difficult, particularly with the rate of development of consumer devices?

Shen
: We have to consider this. It is a good example of where being able to access consumers through our consumer electronics or Lifestyle divisions gives us an edge against traditional Tier 1 suppliers. That market operates so quickly, and being part of it enables Harman’s infotainment division to get an early insight and often this can be an advantage. The level of connectivity we have in this product means we now have a simpler way of updating and adding new features.

AI
: Finally, when is the product launched?

Shen
: The first car to get the system was the BMW 7 Series this summer. It will be rolled out on other models such as the 3 Series, 5 Series and M5 and M6 too.

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