A group of 18 women from Great Britain challenged the laws of space and personal comfort zones when they stuffed themselves into a Mini Cooper on July 3, 2000, securing a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the greatest number of people to fit into a Mini.


Automakers are attempting a similar car-cramming coup as they try to pack all the latest consumer gadgetry into their vehicles' head units. By implementing an assortment of digital features and services such as navigation, climate control, DVD players, Bluetooth, and Internet connectivity, they're extending today's iPod-toting, tweet-sending digital lifestyle to the car in an effort to gain a share of the infotainment market.


Developers have tried to fulfill the auto industry's need for multimedia functionality by creating In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) systems independently, then adding new features to existing vehicle architectures bit by bit. But this modus operandi presents a multifaceted problem: Hardware and software platforms developed for one vehicle line often can't be used in other vehicles, even those manufactured by the same automakers.


In addition to these challenges, the cash-strapped auto industry is struggling to shorten its design and replacement cycles to match the blazing-fast pace of the consumer electronics world, according to a recent ABI Research white paper. For automakers to effectively compete in the infotainment space, they need to embrace open source technologies, the research firm suggests.


Intel is working to develop open, interoperable software and hardware products that can enable car manufacturers to reduce development costs and bring infotainment products to market faster. Based on Intel architecture, these Open Infotainment Platforms (OIPs) provide a common development architecture that be scaled across product lines and generations.


Achieving this level of interoperability calls for collaboration among automakers, suppliers, and technology providers. The newly formed GENIVI Alliance is uniting automotive and electronics companies in an effort to develop and promote the adoption of an open source IVI reference platform. Founding members Intel, Wind River Systems, BMW Group, GM, PSA, Delphi, Magneti Marelli, and Visteon launched the group to establish a cross-industry ecosystem for creating specifications, reference implementations, and certification programs that speed automotive application development. Wind River is an Associate member of the Intel® Embedded and Communications Alliance (Intel® ECA).




Investing in the GENIVI Alliance enables Intel to work with GENIVI and Intel® ECA member companies on tackling the issues that face the automotive industry and meeting the design requirements of IVI systems, says Joel Andrew Hoffmann, strategic market development manager for Intel's IVI Group and director and marketing chair of the GENIVI Alliance.


IVI system design constraints go beyond that of mobile devices, adding significant I/O requirements for the automobile interface and complex audio mixing/switching as well as multiple screens and unique HMIs. In addition, IVI systems must be aligned to vehicle operating conditions and built to last for 10-plus years, making validation and testing more demanding and expensive, Hoffmann says.


"A Mobile Internet Device may be expected to cost only $200 and be replaced frequently by its owner, but if attached to a $40,000 car, it gets much more serious," he says.


Using Intel® processors (particularly the Intel® AtomTM processor) as high-performance building blocks, designers can integrate performance, video, and graphics into a single-chip solution that is significantly faster than other architectures. An Atom-based IVI system can simultaneously run multiple applications, enabling concurrent processes such as running a high-quality 3D navigation system on the driver's screen while streaming video for passengers in the rear seat.


"Capabilities like this usually require multiple 'silver boxes' and redundant hardware, which increases costs to the supplier," Hoffmann says. "With an Intel-based solution, a much higher level of integration saves unit cost money and reduces the complexity of the overall system, in turn reducing validation costs."


The flexibility of the Intel Atom microarchitecture also allows OEMs to reuse PC-based software in IVI systems. Wind River is developing  an Atom-based open source automotive infotainment stack that serves as the foundation for the GENIVI IVI reference design. (More info on the Wind River Platform for Infotainment to come later.)


Consisting of standardized open source middleware, application layer interfaces, and frameworks, the GENIVI platform focuses on the non-differentiating parts of the IVI stack that contain automotive-specific capabilities such as power state management, audio/video management, diagnostic framework, and consumer electronics connectivity.




The GENIVI platform achieves scalability across product lines by delivering functionality to specific IVI device categories including telematics, connected radio, entry-level navigation, and high-end multimedia, says Alexander Kocher, Wind River's VP of automotive solutions. Wind River is utilizing its experience with productizing open source software such as embedded Linux to offer commercial solutions for GENIVI members.


"With Linux as its foundation, the GENIVI platform can rapidly leverage the new open source technologies developed for consumer electronics, telecommunication, and other adjacent industries," Kocher says.


Besides Wind River, Intel ECA Affiliate member Altera and Associate member MontaVista Software are participating in the effort to develop an open source IVI platform. MontaVista is helping the GENIVI Alliance bring its commercialized IVI platform to market and giving IVI customers more hardware- and architecture-independent product choices. Drawing from its experience in providing real-time, fast-boot solutions, the company is offering long-term product life-cycle support as required by the auto industry, says Dan Cauchy, MontaVista VP of marketing.


Cauchy, who also serves as chairman of the Carrier Grade Linux Work Group and represents MontaVista at the GENIVI Alliance, thinks that extending commercial embedded Linux to IVI development is a natural evolution for open source software.


"Where it is difficult for proprietary solutions to keep up with the pace of innovation demanded by the automotive consumer, this speed and control is what open source is known for," he remarks.


To create and distribute its common framework, the GENIVI Alliance is relying on open source innovation and collaboration. Check back here next week for Part 2 of this series, which will describe how the Moblin community is contributing to the GENIVI platform and explore how other Intel ECA software vendors are moving IVI technology forward. A week after that, Part 3 will explain how Intel ECA hardware vendors are incorporating the Low-Power Intel IVI Reference Design in their products to address requirements for vehicle operating conditions. Then, to close out this series, Part 4 will discuss how these IVI systems are revolutionizing automotive applications today and in the future.


A ton of information, to be sure. But it's compelling stuff since it hits close to home (or at least the garage).


So, after hearing about these efforts to advance automotive electronics systems, what are your thoughts on GENIVI's mission to create an open IVI platform? Will IVI developers really be able to keep up with the fast and furious pace of consumer electronics development cycles? Will open source technologies give automakers enough of a cost break to lessen their financial woes?  Share your thoughts with the embedded community.


Jennifer Hesse
OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® ECA