Why Are Car Infotainment Systems Slow?

Car infotainment systems are usually slow compared to what we are used to on our smartphones. Why don’t these automakers put some more RAM and Good processors like in a smartphone and make it fast? 
Instead of diving into a conclusion, this article will shed some light on the development of these systems.

Hardware

Infotainment System Hardware
The hardware used in auto systems are very different. A smartphone is designed to last only a few years whereas all the components in a car are expected to last at least 10 years. The microchips and boards used in an automotive infotainment system are designed to withstand vibrations and extreme temperatures. Most of the development cost goes to make it rugged to survive the harsh environment. If it has to be designed for both performance and ruggedness the unit cost ends up being way more than a performance smartphone.

Operating Systems 

Infotainment systems OS
Different automakers use different OS for their models. The OS manages cables connectivity, UI and OTA updates. OS like Android, Linux, QNX, and Windows are widely used. In a car “information-entertainment” system, the information part uses CAN communication for gathering the information from the ECU. This CAN communication is very slow in sending the data which makes the complete system slow but CAN is used in all the automotive communication systems due to its simplicity and cost-effectiveness. 
Examples of operating systems: 
Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive 7: Ford Sync, Kia Uva, Nissan leaf
Linux: GM, BMW, Hyundai
QNX: Harman Products, Mercedes-Benz

Development

Vehicle systems development and smartphone development

This is not just about developing infotainment systems but about developing a car. It could be a facelift or a new generation. The development of a car takes 5-7 years. All the components are developed in parallel with each other. That means an infotainment system that has been developed today should satisfy a customer 5 years from today. This is very unlike a smartphone which has a much shorter release cycle. 

Compatibility

The IVI (In-vehicle infotainment system) has to be compatible with all the hardware and their I/O such as driving modes, cameras, parking sensors, speakers and controls. Each and every infotainment system has to be designed to be compatible with a specific model. The systems are usually non-centralized systems. This means each and every feature will have its own ECU interconnected through a CAN ( Controller area network). Communication across these sometimes takes a long path.

Laws and Regulations

Driver distraction
Distracted driving has become a major reason for accidents. The infotainment system is also one of them. Laws have been made so that these advanced infotainment systems will not cause distractions. Automakers have to keep this in mind before developing any feature. If anyone proves that the particular feature is inherently dangerous, the automakers are directly liable for it. Hence most of the features are disabled while driving. 
All these feedback systems will increase the cost significantly due to which automakers have to sacrifice performance.

Security

Car remote hacking
Unlike smartphones, an IVI is directly connected to CAN. This gives access to all vehicle functionality as most of the vehicles these days are drive-by-wire systems. A smart connected infotainment system may expose the car to the risk of remote hacking. These advanced infotainment systems have to be developed with security as their main priority.  

Future Processors in Infotainment systems 

Automotive processors, Infotainment processors
Companies like Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, NXP and Samsung are leading in developing automotive processors. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600, Texas’s instrument’s Jacinto DRAx, NXP’s i.MX255 and Samsung’s Exynos Auto V9 are next-generation processors. These processors are a full SOC (System on Chip) with built-in functions like Bluetooth and Wi-fi. The chips are compatible with all the inputs from sensors, ECU and controls. These are focused on both performance and cost-effectiveness.

Conclusion

The car infotainment system and smartphone comparison
Comparing a smartphone to an automotive infotainment system is not a fair game. An Infotainment system might have similar features to that of a smartphone but the development period, working condition and development cost are way different from a smartphone or a laptop. Chip manufacturers and software developers are working together with automakers to come up with performance-based infotainment systems that are secure, fast, cost-effective and at the same time should not distract the driver.

Image Credits:
Texas instruments
NXP
Qualcomm
Samsung
Photo by Courtney Corlew on Unsplash
Photo by Talles Alves on Unsplash
Power designs
Chipworks-TechInsight
References:
Wikipedia
Digitaltrends

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