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Key technologies driving in-vehicle infotainment system innovation

From the moment the first car was born in the workshop of Karl Benz, engineers and manufacturers have raced to improve upon the design of every component of the automobile. With every passing decade, this spirit of innovation means that cars transform — to a point now that Benz would scarcely recognise.

And yet, over the years, one aspect of the car has seemingly fallen behind. What we know as ‘infotainment’ systems have not enjoyed the same rate of development as other parts of the vehicle, beyond keeping up with the latest audio technology.

Contrasted with the meteoric development of smartphone technology over the past decade, consumers have been let down by the technology in their vehicles. While it’s true that very few people trade in their cars as often as they do their phones, there remains a strong expectation of consistent improvement.

An immersive digital driving experience

Consumers have never been so demanding when purchasing a new car. The person in the driver’s seat expects real-time information that is both high quality and responsive, while any passengers in the vehicle expect infotainment of the same calibre as on their smartphones. Consequently, in-vehicle infotainment needs to be a cohesive digital experience that meets the varied needs of both drivers and passengers.

By taking advantage of the latest key technologies, carmakers can produce vehicles that provide these kinds of experiences seamlessly — with a robust framework that can be readily upgraded with the latest innovations.

So, what are these key technologies? There are four that will determine the future quality of in-vehicle infotainment systems.

1. The command centre — a central processing unit (CPU)

Every year, industry analysts wonder if Moore’s Law will hold — and thus far it has.

CPUs are the most powerful and compact that they have ever been, meaning that they’re ideal for in-vehicle infotainment. The best infotainment systems control several interfaces, displaying a myriad datapoints and related information reliably. This makes the central processor incredibly important, especially considering the growing expectations of the consumer.

For that reason, the latest Samsung automotive processor, Exynos Auto V9, contains an octa-core CPU capable of supporting up to six in-vehicle displays and 12 cameras. Eight cores means that the CPU can scale the amount of processing power dedicated to any particular task, maximising energy efficiency by optimising processing.

For safety and versatility, the Exynos Auto V9 processor supports multiple operating systems, including QNX, a RTOS (real-time operating system) for time-critical sub-systems, and Android or Linux, a GPOS (general purpose operating system) for general applications. The ability to customise the CPU in this way allows for an infotainment system that’s perfectly attuned to the driver of the vehicle.

2. The graphical hub — a graphics processing unit (GPU)

Without a high-quality graphics processing unit, even the best CPU will be found wanting.

When an infotainment system is running six displays, a powerful GPU is indispensable. The Exynos Auto V9 embeds three sets of multi-core Mali-G76 GPUs, providing dedicated graphical performance for each critical display — such as cluster display, central information display (CID) and rear-seat entertainment (RSE).

This tri-cluster of advanced GPUs offers maximum graphical fidelity for the in-vehicle displays, meaning that the digital driving assistant can be as detailed and engaging as possible for the driver. Simultaneously, passengers can enjoy entertainment of comparable quality to their smartphones, without detracting from the digital experience in the cockpit.

3. Truly high-performance infotainment — a FinFET process

The 8nm FinFET process is among the most advanced chip solutions to date, which is based on automotive-dedicated process technology provided by Samsung. Shrinking the process node to under 20nm presented huge challenges. Our breakthrough solution to this challenge was our FinFET technology. Unlike the conventional 2D planar structure of a chip, FinFET has a 3D structure that wraps the ‘on/off’ logic gate around a fin-shaped electronic source and drain.

In a planar structure, electrons travel from source to drain along one surface under the gate, whereas in the FinFET structure, electrons travel across three surfaces of a fin-shaped 3D structure. Simply put, at any given time, more voltage is delivered, which allows the FinFET to deliver higher performance than a planar structure. In addition, the shorter gate length of this advanced chip means that electrons travel a shorter distance, enabling transistors to switch on and off rapidly, resulting in more responsive performance.

The FinFET process incorporates Grade2(AEC-Q100) temperature control, maximising the operational power of in-vehicle infotainment system without overloading energy consumption or creating wasting energy as excess heat.

4. Connected communications — a 5G-ready modem

Of course, while the first three technologies on this list provide the bulk of the infotainment experience, all must be supported by a strong connectivity framework. To truly move in-vehicle infotainment into the next generation of technology, a 5G-ready modem should be integrated.

Much has already been written on the potential of 5G, and while it is not yet ubiquitous, it’s important that automotive manufacturers ensure their vehicles are ready. This will allow infotainment systems to be future-proofed — keeping up seamlessly with the everchanging expectations of the consumer. In addition, modems need to support LTE-Advanced broadband, mobile carrier integration and MIMO to offer a completely connected infotainment suite.

The total infotainment package

Taken together, these key technologies create a cohesive in-vehicle infotainment system that’s fit for purpose now, and well into the future. No longer will the technology in cars feel permanently dated — not if automotive manufacturers are willing to devote their distinctly innovative spirit to the interior of the car, in the same way they do the exterior.