What Kind of Software and Programming are Used in a Car’s Infotainment System?
Probably the most frustrating car part – the infotainment system. As if being painfully slow was not enough, there are times when it plays the wrong song, launches the wrong app, and gives you late directions. But what we, as customers, tend to forget that the car’s 7-inch screen is not a smartphone. Chevrolet Volt’s infotainment helps to put the system’s complexity into perspective. It runs over 10 million lines of code daily to carry out its delegated functions. An F-35 fighter jet, on the other hand, runs only 2 million. No doubt car systems are slow!
Still, this is the 21st-century, and customer expectations are soaring. And without the faintest doubt, be sure that the automakers know that. This is why Toyota is partnering with Microsoft to bring out better software and the likes of Google and Apple are already in play. If you are using voice-controlled navigation today, get ready for an era where your car’s infotainment automatically finds your favorite store in a new city. If you have parking assistance, autonomous driving is coming next. So, what makes all these possible? What goes one underneath that flat screen which can display almost anything? Let’s peek into the architecture first, in simple language of course, and then explore what the future beholds.
The software and programming in a car’s infotainment
Typically, 5 layers make up the whole infotainment system. On the surface, you have the standard 7-inch touchscreen (or maybe with some buttons) with the bed being made up of hardware completely. In between, various programs and software run in sync to allow you to play radio, park your car, check tire pressure, and call your spouse.
- The user interface
The medium via which the car’s infotainment interacts with you. Whatever you see on the screen is the UI or user interface. You either touch or press a button to command your car to do something and it returns the results on the screen or executes them without question.
- Application framework
This sits underneath the UI and is the manager of all applications. Once the application framework receives your command, it starts mobilizing the available resources and launches the necessary apps. It also decides which apps to keep running and which to turn off when not in use.
- Mobile integration
The software that allows you to connect a smartphone with the car’s infotainment. You can imagine this layer sitting parallelly to car platform software like multimedia player, GPS navigation, and sound system. Once you connect your Apple’s CarPlay (say), the mobile integration layer takes over with access to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, plug and play, and more.
- Operating System
The OS is like the glue that keeps all the layers together. Automobile software engineers use operating systems like Windows and Linux to control the system’s access to the hardware underneath and enables “operation”. In simple words, the OS is the core of the infotainment’s entire software system.
The RAM is a microchip that sits on a motherboard. The radio is also a chip that sits somewhere on the board. The pressure sensor in the tire and the camera on your tailgate are all hardware that the software accesses from time to time to read or execute functions. These are also called the car’s head unit and form the last layer of the car’s infotainment.
As evident, once you give the command to access the rear camera through the user interface, that instruction flows down all the above layers until it reaches the camera itself. The feed from the camera is read and the data travels back up to get displayed on the screen again. The entire flow, back and forth, takes milliseconds to complete execution. And your car’s system is capable of dealing with numerous such tasks simultaneously.
The future of infotainment
The cars of the coming generation will have software-heavy infotainment. Not only will you be able to play songs and command the vehicle to park itself, but the infotainment will also have better sync with your smartphone where you can open and close doors remotely, start your engine with your mobile and access social media to post your location or drive to the place where your friends are hanging out. Automakers are also working with Google and Cisco to develop programs that will enable cars to interact with each other to reach traffic conditions and take possible faster detours. For hybrids and electrics, your car will decide when to charge itself from the grid and run the engine efficiently. Diversification, connectivity, electrification, and autonomy – this is where the infotainment systems are headed. Slow screens will no longer be a problem as faster and thinner chips are coming into the market. A few years down the lane, expect a customized driving experience through your car’s infotainment where the above 5 layers are bound to get even more sophisticated.
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