What Is Automotive Infotainment?
Benefits of Infotainment
An infotainment system can offer more feature-rich capabilities than systems that separate these functions. It can also be more easily extended than previous systems because it fundamentally relies on software for its features rather than hardware. This means, for example, that a new music streaming service could be added via a software update or the ability to watch online video (while the vehicle is stationary). Existing features can be enhanced. A smartphone-like app ecosystem is also possible.
A benefit of this centralization to automakers is simplification. Instead of having multiple disparate pieces of hardware from different manufacturers, which must be integrated, there is only one central hardware platform. This will receive inputs from multiple sources within the car, such as GPS, cameras, and other sensors—combined within the infotainment system via software. They can then be presented with a unified interface.
From the driver’s perspective, having all information and entertainment available through one screen makes these functions easier to operate. The features will also be accessible using interfaces closer to what drivers are used to from their smartphones and other computing devices rather than forcing them to learn control methods specific to an automotive brand.
Although most vehicles still offer a traditional instrument binnacle, this increasingly operates in tandem with the infotainment system. The digital cockpit, including a head-up display, can deliver information that mirrors data from the infotainment system, such as navigation instructions and mapping or details of any music or radio channels playing.
Examples of Infotainment Functions
Automotive infotainment systems can perform a wide variety of functions, including:
- Radio operation
- Playing music files from local storage
- Playing music from a streaming service
- Streaming video display
- Navigation, including live traffic updates
- Hands-free smartphone communication
- Internet access
- Telematics, including driving efficiency and electric range information
- Smartphone mirroring, such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or MirrorLink
- Configuration of engine power and ADAS settings
- Visual controls for climate control
- Voice-activated vehicle controls
How Infotainment Works
The most advanced infotainment systems run all their functions on one powerful piece of computing hardware. But it is still possible for a single piece of underlying hardware to operate various disparate systems, some of which could even use different operating systems. This is performed by automotive virtualization, which runs each function or related group of functions (such as radio and music file playing) in a separate virtual machine via an automotive hypervisor.
This means that mission-critical functions such as ADAS and more entertainment-oriented features can be kept separate so they don’t interfere with each other. The navigation system, which requires more immediate real-time updates (so you don’t miss your turning), can also be given processing priority over entertainment. A virtualized automotive real-time operating system such as QNX® Neutrino® Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) can run simultaneously alongside different platforms like Android Automotive via the QNX Hypervisor and QNX Hypervisor for Safety.
Infotainment vs. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Automotive infotainment comes directly from the vehicle. Even if it supplies content from a third party, such as a music streaming service, the application for this will be running locally on the infotainment hardware. With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the infotainment system primarily supplies a touchscreen interface to a smartphone, enabling key apps to be controlled through the vehicle’s display. The smartphone may also receive information from the car’s GPS receiver.
While these mirroring systems enable drivers to use smartphone services that they are familiar with, such as mapping and navigation, these won’t interface directly with car systems. For example, an EV won’t be able to prompt stopping at a nearby charging station when it senses the remaining range would require this.
Check Out Our Other Ultimate Guides
Embedded Systems Security