Automotive infotainment and open-source development: Where is the industry moving?

10th September 2012
Posted By : ES Admin

By Laurent Emmerich – Coupled with high-speed internet connectivity and intuitive human machine interfaces (HMI), our cars have become smart devices on wheels. Dashboards that once featured basic audio systems are being replaced with multimedia and entertainment systems that stream data from the internet, mirroring many of the features that we access in our homes and our smart mobile devices. Printed maps are being replaced with sexy navigation systems that get us where we need to be at the touch of a screen or sound of our voice.

The incredible features that are rolling off the automotive assembly lines are a result of deep collaboration among automotive manufacturers, standards bodies, manufacturers of semiconductor components, and software solutions partners.

A group that focuses on this collaborative effort is the GENIVI Alliance, which brings together various sectors of automotive infotainment. This group keeps us all on the “same page” by aligning technology through industry recognized and accepted standards, from requirements and reference implementations to compliance programs. The group fosters a vibrant open-source community for development, focusing on Linux and its ecosystems as a foundation. The benefits? Shortened development cycles as a result of the rich software Linux ecosystem and the amount of available open source software. The alliance uniquely brings companies that typically compete in the same market together for collaboration on the foundation of the GENIVI platform. Companies then work independently to differentiate features of their end products. This new model aims to help automotive manufacturers keep up with the pace of innovation.

This year, I had the chance to attend the 6th GENIVI All Members Meeting in Paris, which was not my first one, but this one was special. We implemented one of the GENIVI software components (the GENIVI Layer Manager) using one of the i.MX 6 GPU cores specially designed for hardware compositing, which makes a huge difference in graphics performance. Compared to several others, our implementation leaves the two other cores (2D and 3D) unused and fully available for the creation of fancy and sexy HMI or rich graphics applications.

The i.MX 6 series applications processor series offers a triple play GPU architecture which allows you to create and deliver innovative HMI. In addition to the graphics capabilities of the i.MX 6 series, the i.MX 6 system-on-a-chip can include from one to four ARM® Cortex-A9 cores so that you get enough “juice” to power CPU intensive applications. Let’s say that the innovation in infotainment is no longer capped by the technical capabilities of the hardware platform but more bound to the engineer’s creativity and imagination.
Above: It was the biggest demo show room that GENIVI has ever had – and it was amazing to see so many demos running Freescale i.MX applications processors. This shows how well our products fit to the market requirements, which technically bridge the consumer electronics and the automotive world, yet deliver automotive-grade quality and longevity.

I attended several popular Linux sessions, as well as others that addressed topics such as virtualization and HTML5, which are clearly gaining huge momentum in the automotive industry. This is very well aligned with our strategy – always a good feeling!

Linux has certainly changed infotainment, and several products on the market today are already running Linux, and more are to come with the first products running GENIVI compliant platforms should appear in 2013-2014. Linux is bringing a rich software ecosystem to the car, but Linux is not only a desktop or consumer-grade operating system: today you can find Linux networking systems, medical systems and most of connected TVs are running Linux.

But we should not forget the stringent automotive requirements such as stability, security, fast boot time and clear isolation of the infotainment system from the critical systems in the car, which is why virtualization is becoming a hot topic, as it could be one answer to those concerns.

HTML5 was heavily discussed, and it is very much aligned with the trends in the consumer market and the fact that a lot of people are convinced that HTML5 could be the standard enabling a full cross platform portability of applications, not only among devices, among operating systems and platforms but also among markets. Could you imagine developing an application that could run on a mobile phone, a tablet, a TV, a washing machine … and car? But let’s save HTML5 for another blog.

Several sessions covered the potential relationship with GENIVI and Android OS. It was very interesting to see that participants from several places came to share their views on this very dynamic market and bring their requirements to the table. I have to be fairly honest here, and I myself never believed that Android, at least in its first generations could address the infotainment market. For several reasons: Licensing grey areas and the issue between Google and Oracle, a monolithic HMI/Core application business architecture limiting creativity and innovation on the HMI side where OEMs want to differentiate, the limited hardware acceleration support, an architecture limited to one single user, and a limited eco-systems compared to Linux, etc. … But several products proved me wrong. For instance, InkaNet in China and Renault in Europe, and several other ongoing projects, clearly indicate that some OEMs and tiers are considering Android as a valid platform. Moreover, in the meantime Android has evolved and several of my concerns are no longer valid. All that may explain why several companies, although members of the GENIVI Alliance consider Android and would like to define the best way to get the best of those two platforms.

GENIVI offers silicon vendors the opportunity to meet and to discuss commonalities – and lets us collaborate on how we can best support the software side of GENIVI.
And last but not least, Freescale provided i.MX 53 Quick Start boards (QSB) for a hands-on session. It was great to see all the engineers putting their design skills to work on our tiny QSBs. It also demonstrates how well-supported our hardware is. Watching the GENIVI reference implementation running on the QSB showed them how close our consumer products are to our automotive grade solutions. Hopefully those who left with a QSB will produce code and contribute to the GENIVI effort.

To further illustrate the GENIVI support for the i.MX application processors, I have selected one demonstration that we caught on video this summer at Freescale Technology Forum. In this video, you can watch Canonical demonstrating their Ubuntu One solution, which supports the Freescale i.MX application processors

David Duffey from Canonical not only demonstrates that Unbuntu runs on the i.MX application processors, but also shows the GENIVI Compliant Ubuntu IVI Remix running on the Freescale SABRE for automotive and how the Ubuntu One cloud solution enables the users to share media and content among all their devices, from smartphones, tablets, laptops to IVI head units.

Freescale passed all the GENIVI 2.0 compliance requirements last July with our i.MX 6 Application Processors and our Steed software release. GENIVI support for our i.MX applications processors has been available through several of our partners since the GENIVI compliance existed. You can see more compliant products here.

If you are a GENIVI member and are planning to attend the 7th GENIVI All Member Meeting in Shanghai in October, please stop by and meet us at our booth.

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