Today, more ‘things’ are connected to the Internet than there are people on the planet. Connectivity was a major theme at last week’s Freescale FTF event in San Antonio, Texas. There were over 1300 attendees, and around 200 technical sessions over the course of 4 days. An impressive range of SoC solutions aimed at connectivity covered such diverse applications, from Medical, Energy Management, Safety to Automotive and more. An increasing amount of Embedded Software is featuring on all of these devices.
In the medical world for example, hospitals are connecting up with remote patients, with heart-rate monitors transmitting detailed heart-rhythm waveform profiles in real time to a doctor many miles away. In the home, connectivity with the embedded software in HVAC controls allow switch-on and switch off when the house occupants are approaching, thus minimizing wasted energy and home heating time. And in the Automotive area, the connectivity solutions between Smart Phones and In-Vehicle Infotainment systems is gathering more and more mature.
In 2011 there were around 80 million vehicles sold globally, compared with 470 million smart phones – the expectation is increasingly for the smart-phone user experience to be replicated in the vehicle, rather than vice-versa. Some form of user-interface replication is expected when the phone is inside the vehicle, so that the driver has a familiar Infotainment environment. Key Smart-Phone assets needed in the vehicle include the contacts list, music playlist list, and connectivity to an internet service provider for example. For vehicle passengers, access to the Apps on the phone, pictures, and social media applications will also be important. This opens up two further connectivity challenges: The Infotainment system-to-the-vehicle, and the driver-to-the-Infotainment system.
Most cars in production today make use of the CAN/LIN wiring methodologies, with a minimal number of ECUs and no central gateway. As complexity has evolved, domain controllers have been introduced, to handle increased software traffic, message routing and allow some further optimization of the wire harness. More recent connectivity standards now include Flexray, MOST, and Ethernet, which can address the higher data rates needed for multimedia, multiple cameras around the vehicle, and Infotainment displays for drivers and passengers. Interfaces to these networks are built directly into the Infotainment SoCs allowing easier installation and configuration. The Driver-to-Infotainment connection is less mature. It is reckoned that a driver has to glance away from the road for at least two seconds, to process a touch-screen function. Alarmingly there are still no formal standards in this area, but the USA National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) has published some guidelines. They suggest that the total series of glances needed should not exceed 12 seconds, and that the number of characters to be scanned at a time should not exceed 30. This is still a significant off-task distraction for the driver. It is not surprising that a lot of effort is going into speech and gesture recognition as a means to operate Infotainment Systems. As a result, the voice recognition technologies market will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of almost 9% between 2012 and 2015. The total market was valued at an estimated $38 billion in 2010 and is expected to reach $60 billion by 2015.
Will gestures become standardized? How will misinterpretations be avoided? There are a lot of open questions. Smart phones have speech recognition built in today, and this can adapt to the owner, but what happens if a vehicle has multiple drivers? Will it then depend on the Smart-Phone voice pattern matching transferring to the Infotainment system? Expect a lot more discussion on this connectivity topic!
Here’s a short demo of an automotive HMI shown at Freescale Technology Forum in San Antonio, TX.