For almost 90 years, humankind has been driving automobiles, and for most of that time, we’ve looked for ways to be entertained and stay in touch while we drive. Today’s in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems have evolved far from broadcast technology delivering radio programs to consumers. Over the years, we’ve seen the growth of personalized entertainment in the form of onboard media and subscription-based content services.
What we are beginning to have now in the cabins of our vehicles is an interactive cockpit under the command of a digital cockpit domain controller, with engaging human-machine interface (HMI) enhancements like facial recognition, gesture control and personal identity to offer personalized driver and passenger information. This development encourages shared mobility, which can transform ownership of vehicles.
I think you may find it surprising how large a role centralized storage plays in today’s solutions and in the ongoing race to develop advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and self-driving cars. This technology is also key in enhancing the connected cockpit experience. From my experiences in the early automotive aftermarket, allow me to discuss some trends arising in IVI technology.
Your Digital Cockpit Experience
The “enriched cabin” has become a differentiator. Eric Jhonsa, writing from CES 2019 in TheStreet.com, noted the impressive offerings for automotive technology. “At one CES exhibit after another from top-tier automakers and their hardware and chip suppliers, one could spot giant ‘digital cockpit’ solutions that paired a cluster of digital instruments with an infotainment system featuring one or more displays.”
Interactive vehicular cockpits typically have a camera behind the steering wheel to perform an automatic face-recognition scan, part of the security system, and to trigger your personal preferences, like seat height, steering wheel angle and more. For automated IVI, you might see and hear your favorite radio stations or books on tape or sports broadcasts. Multiple state-of-the-art displays give you control over your experience, making your life, as our partner Harman says, “…smarter, safer, more personable and secure.”
Harman includes an application to bridge multiple voice assistants to the cockpit. Multitasking IVI enables you to get your appointments, map your route home, plus let you provide automated and dictated responses to email and texts.
And the passengers also get greeted by name and offered their entertainment and comfort preferences. These enriched cabins are BYOD, bring your own device. Stream content from your tablet or smartphone to your personalized vehicle display in the seat back in front of you. Content comes from embedded cellular technology or is accessed via a 5G connectivity hub. Smart car systems can even automatically minimize data costs while they maximize performance and bandwidth.
Cameras can also monitor the driver’s condition for signs of drowsiness or distraction — and offer details of a side trip for the nearest stop for coffee. Cellular V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) technology also monitors others on the road and could assist in reacting more quickly to lane drifters, unexpected stops and other risks.
The Technology Behind Interactive Cockpits
Figure 1: Interactive Cockpits Depend on Vehicle Profiles to Drive Services
Larger automotive market trends also put a big focus on cabin technology (see Figure 1). With IVI systems traditionally moving from an isolated architecture to integrating the instrument cluster information bridge, many interactive cockpits now contain an assembly known as a domain controller. This is meant to offer a cost reduction from a freestanding cluster and IVI system, plus start information sharing between the two primary driver interfaces.
Most of these devices are based on a single multicore system-on-chip (SoC) processor. To reinforce safety, the architecture is divided into two domains. One is for the safety-critical interface to the instrument cluster, so it gets certified under the Automotive Safety Integrity Level Class B (ASIL-B). Then other connectivity in the vehicle is separately enabled by a telematics control unit (TCU) and often isolated by a secure gateway.
The Shared-Use Model and Self-Driving Cars
For more about today’s trend toward making vehicle ownership optional rather than mandatory, read about mobility as a service in “MaaS Promotes Shift to Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.” These offerings from leading automotive retailers will help extend a buyer’s lifestyle, while continuing the important personal relationship between owners and brand, and ensure the vehicles are robust enough for heavier use.
With future users migrating between owned, shared and mobility fleet vehicles, technology must focus on creating, storing and sharing a mobile persona. That involves encrypting and securing data on financial relationships, among other things. The next-generation vehicle cockpit system will have to identify users, often from a fleet population, then onboard and protect their personal preferences, profiles and content access for simultaneous delivery. Depending on where the user sits in the vehicle, the system must deliver their individual interactive experience isolated from other passengers’ IVI.
The interactive cockpit domain controller must make the shared-use model attractive, easy and intuitive for users. Luckily, many systems that benefit shared use will also be key for autonomous vehicles to come, such as multimodal user identification, including speech recognition, facial recognition, biometrics, spatial telemetry for occupant location, interactive services such as entertainment, IoT interaction and others. All of these capabilities require extensive compute power, and customers expect the same speedy performance that they get from their latest mobile devices.
NVMe Solid State Drives for Automotive
This highlights a new option in flash storage. Like the SoCs designed for mobile phones, storage solutions based on the UFS interface have been popular for automotive IVI applications, replacing storage based on eMMC. But PCIe-based storage outperforms UFS in sequential and random read and random write. PCIe flash is beginning to show up on automotive platforms. Using a PCIe backbone to integrate sensor function and action can enable data bandwidth of 2 GB/s per line (8 GB/s for four lanes), the highest data transfer speed among storage options.
PCIe is a low-latency, accelerated protocol found on automotive-grade solid-state drives (SSDs) based on NVM Express™ (NVMe™) architecture. NVMe was built from the ground up to exploit the speed of flash storage, offering data transfer speeds of 3 to 4 GB/s. The PCIe interface is also far more efficient when compared to UFS latency.
NVMe SSDs can also enable multiple namespace configurations. Namespaces are unique data storage areas privately or publicly accessible. Using PCIe in virtualized computing means these namespaces can be subdivided into multiple virtual machines (VMs) running on the SoC. Each VM can be isolated to support unique virtual functions. Automotive SSDs with single-root input/output virtualization, or SR-IOV, features make these PCIe-based architectures flexible and manageable.
Data security is also improved. Certain keys within the system can bind the physical drive to the system architecture and various components to minimize direct security threats. An automotive-grade NVMe SSD can also encrypt sensitive data stored on the drive, like vehicle firmware, personal identity information, whitelist/blacklist security profiles and other information. Deploying encryption to protect access control to data regions makes the vehicle IVI platform and the whole overall connected infrastructure safer.
Micron is working with key OEMs and tier-one partners on centralizing storage, enhancing security and deploying automotive-grade SSDs for next-gen architectures for 2023 and beyond in the areas of not only IVI, but also automated driving and central compute architectures.
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