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2009

The other day a friend picked me up in a new hybrid SUV for a trip to a favorite hiking spot. Considering that I still drive a car from the last century, I couldn't help but take inventory of all the electronic goodies. The highest coolness factor went to the voice-activated navigation system. You can drive into a city and ask it to "show me Thai restaurants." It will show you on a map all the ones in the vicinity, let you to select one, and then calculate the best route and provide visual and audio directions. Green curry with tofu anyone?

 

The SUV's in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system includes much more, of course. For instance, there's also XM NavTraffic and NavWeather for real-time local traffic and weather reports. The first is great for getting out of the city fast. The second is perfect for a last-minute weather check before heading out on the trail.

 

This experience piqued my interest for how manufacturers are packing so much connectivity and so many capabilities into IVI systems at a price point that still allows auto manufacturers to be competitive in price with one another on vehicles. Already today's IVI systems incorporate everything from satellite navigation, DVD and digital television, Internet access, connectivity to a range of consumer electronics (CE) devices, and many other features. You won't find this in an econobox, of course, but you don't have to move far up an auto manufacturer's line to start seeing some serious intelligent, connected electronics.

 

The challenges to bringing such a system to market on time and on budget are many, but in talking with Christian Riesinger, R&D Manager, and Christian Eder, Marketing Manager, Congatec AG (an Associate member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance), I learned there are some significant shortcuts that IVI system OEMs can take.

 

The first is to start design with the new low-power Intel® In-Vehicle Infotainment Reference Design (Intel® IVI Reference Design). This open, standards-based platform avoids the proprietary trap so many IVI systems fall into by: using proprietary subsystems; working so hard to integrate them; and lacking a clear evolution path because all the subsystem suppliers are not on the same map.

 

Starting with the Intel IVI Reference Design enables you to avoid these issues, plus gives you a jump start by providing a broad range of IVI features, ranging from satellite navigation to hands-free communications to rear-view cameras. The platform is highly integrated, but also highly flexible. This allows OEMs to easily scale their designs to different vehicles and markets. It also gives you a simplified path for future upgrades.

 

The second shortcut is something Congatec recently developed: the conga-IVI Starterkit. This is basically an Intel IVI Reference Design carrier board married to a touch-screen display and a conga-CA COM Express module. The result is a DIN-sized platform with everything you need to build an IVI system. Congatec is an associate member of Alliance.

 

The carrier board provides a variety of vehicle-specific interfaces, such as APIX, MOST, and CAN. You can implement these interfaces with Alliance member Xilinx's Automotive Spartan®-3E field-programmable gate array (FPGA). IVI OEMs can add or remove interfaces from the FPGA as needed and can select the FPGA device density that provides an optimal solution. The conga IVI Starterkit also includes six USB 2.0 ports, a built-in USB GPS receiver, integrated Bluetooth®, a radio tuner with antennas, and an SDIO expansion card interface. The SDIO interface is perfect for integrating low-cost SD cards for mass storage or for enhanced functions, such as a TV tuner or WiMAX interface.

 

So what's at the heart of the conga IVI Starterkit that makes it so intelligent and low-power? The Intel® Atom™ processor Z530 at 1.6 GHz and the Intel® System Controller Hub US15W. This combination delivers the high levels of 3D performance needed for advanced human-machine interface (HMIs). The platform can independently drive two separate flatpanel displays for different front- and rear-seat applications. Integrated hardware video decoding allows the platform to play high-resolution video smoothly with minimal processor loading. That should keep young passengers in the rear seat happy.

 

The Intel Atom processor has a thermal design power (TDP) of just 2W. This allows OEMs to forgo the fan. This, of course, reduces noise and increases reliability (no fan to break down).

 

Another key benefit of using an Intel Atom processor is its Intel® architecture. This provides full interoperability with lots of proven, standards-based software. For example, the conga-IVI Starterkit can run the Linux Platform for Infotainment from Wind River, an associate member of the Alliance.

 

The conga-IVI Starterkit gives IVI OEMs a true advantage in bringing solutions to market on time and on budget. But there's something else you can't ignore either. Design freedom. By removing many of the integration and interoperability hurdles that IVI OEMs face, it allows you to concentrate on features that differentiate your products. It also smoothes the road ahead by proving a clear upgrade path for upcoming designs without worrying about getting trapped in some proprietary nightmare where your tires spin and you just can't get any traction for the future.

 

What do you think about starter kits for IVI systems? What kind of things you could do with such a solution under the hood?

 

Though it could have earned you some cash a few months ago, that old clunker out back isn't going to do you much good with its lousy gas mileage, sputtering engine, and miscellaneous recalled items that you never bothered to get fixed.

 

Just as a vehicle needs a quality mechanical design to function properly and keep maintenance costs low, so too does an In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) system require a reliable hardware platform to enable seamless integration and rapid development at minimal cost.

 

The Low-Power Intel IVI Reference Design lays the foundation for an Open Infotainment Platform (OIP) that incorporates automotive-specific features and comes with complete schematics and bill of materials to simplify development and accelerate time to market. Fitting in a standard DIN slot, the small-footprint platform meets the high-performance/low-power requirements of IVI systems while providing full interoperability with existing home and office technologies.

 

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Equipped with the Intel Atom Processor Z530 at 1.6 GHz and Intel System Controller Hub US15W, the Low-Power Intel IVI Reference Design eliminates noise and reliability concerns related to the use of fans and heat sinks. In addition to offering broad software compatibility and compact I/O interfaces, the design platform supports loads of IVI connectivity functions, including Bluetooth, video capture, CAN and Media-Oriented Systems Transport (MOST), Ethernet, and USB connectors for various consumer electronics devices.

 

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Besides a system controller daughtercard used for basic power management, the platform contains an automotive carrier board and the conga-CA COM Express module from Intel Embedded Alliance Associate member congatec AG, who provided input and support during the design phase of the carrier board. The 95 x 85 mm2 conga-CA module is designed with the Intel Atom processor, comes with 1 GB DDR2 memory, and offers embedded BIOS support.

 

All of the hardware and documentation for the Low Power Intel IVI Reference Design is included in the conga-IVI Starterkit, which automakers and suppliers are using to test and define new products, says Christian Eder, congatec's VP of marketing.

 

"The next generation of IVI solutions will be much more flexible and powerful," Eder says. "Congatec's modular approach means that upgrades to upcoming CPU performance steps will be easier."

 

To extend its flexibility and integrate IVI-specific functions, the Low-Power Intel IVI Reference Design uses a Xilinx Automotive Spartan-3E FPGA that allows designers to produce a customized peripheral extension chip to the Intel System Controller Hub US15W. Alliance Affiliate member Xilinx was involved in creating the reference design and worked with Intel to develop the IP, platform integration, and development boards required.

 

With the FPGA handling all of the interfacing in the system, automakers can customize and future-proof their IVI designs while using the same basic platform, says Kevin Tanaka, senior manager of worldwide automotive marketing and product planning at Xilinx.

 

"As interface standards change based on the whim of the consumer market, the IP loaded into the FPGA can be updated to accommodate this change without impacting the base architecture of the design," he says.

 

Capabilities provided by the FPGA-based design include I2C, I2S, and UART connectivity; SDHC v2.0 for high-capacity storage; and video and MOST network connectivity. Because the XA Spartan-3E FPGA offers multiple density options, Tier Ones can scale up or down in the device line based on the required feature sets, thus optimizing their cost structure while maintaining the same footprint on their boards, Tanaka says.

 

"This way, you only pay for what you need to satisfy the end customer," he says.

 

With all that functionality packed into an IVI head unit, there's not much room left for heat sinks or fans. And although the Atom has a low Thermal Design Point (TDP) of 4.5 W, its small die size can result in high gap pad thermal resistance. To address this and other thermal/mechanical considerations, Intel developed new products for the Intel® AtomTM processor Z5xx series including industrial-temperature options, as well as different package-size choices better suited for in-car infotainment devices. These products provide enhanced thermal performance (14 °C cooler) and reliable operation under extreme conditions.

 

Intel, in collaboration with American Portwell Technology, an Associate member of the Alliance,  kept these thermal constraints in mind when developing the PCS-8220, one of the first system models built with that design. Portwell's PCS-8230, an Atom-based embedded car PC infotainment system, provides ultra-low power consumption (6 V to 24 V wide DC power input) and emits low heat (2.5 W generated by the CPU). Using the Intel Embedded Compact eXtended (ECX) form factor, the fanless 180 mm x 192.2. mm x 50 mm system fits in a single DIN slot that can slide right into a vehicle's dashboard.

 

The Low-Power Intel IVI Reference Design can help automotive system designers overcome challenges specific to IVI applications by providing direction for a low-cost solution that selects the right performance level, implements smart power control, and determines how many RF, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and other connectivity functions to use as dictated by the application, says Jack Lam, senior product marketing manager at Portwell.

 

"'Cost is efficiency' is the main reason for using a standard-based platform in IVI systems," Lam says. "Unlike the PC market, which always chases the latest and greatest, it is more focused on what is the best fit for most existing models in the IVI market."

 

Keep your browser bookmarked here for next week's final installment in this series illustrating how these IVI technologies are being integrated into automotive applications, transforming the way we roll.

 

Before we dive into the car app pool, I welcome your feedback on what you think about the Low-Power Intel IVI Reference Design. How can designing with this platform bridge the gap between different generations of products? Besides thermal performance, what other technical challenges must be considered when developing IVI systems? How can designers reduce IVI design complexity and keep costs low? Give us your insight into these issues.

 

Jennifer Hesse
OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® Embedded Alliance

I've been fortunate so far in my life and through good health have never spent any significant time personally in a hospital. I have visited hospitalized friends or family members, in some cases in the intensive care unit (ICU). One was my son who was born prematurely and spent 10 days in the neonatal unit. One of the immediate observations anyone has in visiting such patients is the number of confining wires connected to them to alert doctors and staffs to everything from changes in heartbeat and respiration to body temperature.

 

Vital sign monitoring is used in the operating room, ICU and other recovery rooms, and even in home care. One vexing thing for patients and staff can be the sheer number of wires attached to the patient and various monitoring devices. These wires hamper movement and, by forcing patients to be more sedentary than they need to be, slow recovery.

 

Researchers looking into the tangle of wires holding patients down believe that wireless body networks are the solution. A wireless body area network (WBAN) would use wireless sensors that transmit signals to a single embedded platform. This platform would then continuously process the data, provide readings, and activate alarms and any other necessary equipment in response to the patient's vital signs and condition. If such a platform were made from commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) boards, this would be a major innovation in an industry where many solutions are proprietary, expensive, and take a long time to get regulatory approval.

 

A recent proof-of-conceptproved the viability of using a COTS board to create a WBAN platform. The proof-of-concept was developed by Portwell, an Associate member of Intel® Embedded Alliance, and LynuxWorks, an Affiliate member. The companies used a Portwell Mini-ITX boardbased on an embedded Intel®Core™2 Duo processorand hardware-assisted Intel® Virtualization Technology(Intel® VT)[1], combined with the LynxSecure separation kernel  and hypervisor software, to connect more than 25 wireless biometric sensors at once.

 

This solution is particularly elegant and significant for its use of a virtualized secure partition to provide isolation for the Bluetooth* networking stack from other system software. This helps ensure the reliability of the platform—an important consideration when you're talking about monitoring someone's heartbeat and other vital signs. Intel VT plays a key role here by helping enable the various critical biometric monitoring functions and operating systems to run in separate protected, virtualized execution environments.

 

Equally elegant is the use of a COTS board. Medical equipment manufacturers face stringent industry standards for reliability and patient data privacy. By starting with an approved COTS design, manufacturers could address these requirements more rapidly, lower development risk, and shorten time to market.Paving the way to WBANs is the approval of Bluetooth wireless medical systems by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2003.

 

I think the use of COTS boards will really open up the possibilities for WBANs. COTS boards will allow medical equipment manufacturers to provide hospital and other care centers versatile platforms that do much more than enable patient freedom. They will enable easy customization for the monitoring needs of specific patients. What's more, COTS platforms offering virtualized secure partitions will enable the addition of new sensor devices to the platform as they are developed, extending the life of the solution.

 

 

A proof-of-concept like this gets you thinking about how some of the 15 billion intelligent connected devicespredicted for 2015[2]will help improve health care and early notice of a serious medical condition. Perhaps someday we'll all connect to our personal WBAN from time to time to check our health between doctor visits. What uses could you see for a WBAN in and outside of a hospital?



[1] Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT), Intel® Trusted Execution Technology (Intel® TXT), and Intel® 64 architecture require a computer system with a processor, chipset, BIOS, enabling software and/or operating system, device drivers and applications designed for these features. Performance will vary depending on your configuration. Contact your vendor for more information.

[2] John Gantz, "The Embedded Internet: Methodology and Findings," IDC, January 2009.

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