Automotive infotainment started with the radio. Today’s cars offer much more than AM and FM. You can play podcasts directly from the internet and look up nearby gas stations and restaurants using GPS. This revolution in car connectivity has brought us significant benefits.
When GPS navigation first came to cars, most people celebrated! Finally, there’s an end to getting lost on long trips and wasting time. No more embarrassing times spent pulling over to ask for directions. Those benefits are real for the most part.
However, there’s more to the story. Some drivers became so reliant upon GPS navigation that they made foolish mistakes or end up taking the long route to a destination.
GPS glitches from user mistakes are another challenge. A GPS system may struggle to interpret a driver’s voice commands and generate directions to the wrong place. For example, if a driver is distracted they may not speak their instructions clearly to the system. As a result, the system may provide incorrect directions. That’s why we need better technology to enable driver safety.
Right now, many drivers rely upon their smartphones to get information while driving. That behavior is going to change. First, many jurisdictions are imposing strict penalties on distracted driving, and that’s not all. The New York Times reported 10% increases to car insurance premiums are becoming common for people with distracted driving tickets. Let’s look at the technology that will keep you safe and well informed at the same time.
When you drive, you have a lot to worry about – traffic, conversations inside the car, weather, and more. In that situation, your car’s technology has to be reliable. Just imagine if your car’s digital mirror malfunctioned while you driving on the high way. That kind of malfunction can happen when a car’s LCD freezes. To prevent car accidents, ROHM’s chips have a functional safety system that enables each part of the system to share information as needed so the system can detect any malfunction or error when it occurs. These chips also have improved timing controllers and drivers to support high-resolution displays. Drivers benefit from this hardware by getting more reliable side mirrors and speedometers.
Advances in radio technology are critical to bringing new automotive infotainment capabilities. On the positive side, carmakers such as Tesla are already using internet connectivity to deliver features such as improved automatic navigation (“Navigate on Autopilot”). That’s a major advance over the old way of providing improvements – requiring customers to bring their vehicles in for service.
At the same time, these “over the air” updates for cars make some people nervous. For example, what if a hacker breaks through and gains access to a car’s systems? Rather than suffering from stolen information, a hacked car could cause death, injury and significant property damage for the driver, passengers and other people. To mitigate this risk in the short term, several major carmakers are limiting wireless communication to automotive infotainment systems. However, as self-driving car technology becomes more common, consumers will demand the faster service that wireless connections can provide.
Similar to the components in LCDs, airbag technology in cars keeps working regardless of whether you’re connected to the internet. At first glance, airbag technology looks and feels like a mechanical experience rather than a digital one. The airbag opens up and cushions you when there’s a collision, right? That’s an accurate description of the early airbag technology.
While they did save lives and reduce the impact of collisions in many cases, early airbag technology had a problem. To save people quickly in an accident, the airbag deploys rapidly. According to Scientific American: “From the time the sensor detects the collision to the time the airbag is fully inflated is only 30 milliseconds. Some 50 milliseconds after an accident, the car’s occupant hits the airbag.” Opening that quickly requires significant force, and that force can hurt children and adults in some cases.
Sensors and software are now reducing the negative side effects of automotive airbags. First, look at externally mounted side airbags. According to German company ZF’s testing, “the side airbag reduces the severity of injuries by up to 40 percent.” Radar hardware is a critical component in this technology because collisions need to be detected rapidly so the airbag can fire. In addition to radar, the system also uses LIDAR (i.e., Light Detection and Ranging) and camera sensors, the same kinds of technology driverless car navigation is exploring. Taken together, these technologies help deliver better car safety without relying upon the internet.
As more threats emerge in the world, there’s a growing appetite for security technology. To protect drivers and the public, carmakers and technologists will need to balance delivering better automotive infotainment with security protections. Customers demand more safety and technological innovation in the next generation of cars. Carmakers have heard these demands and they are up to the challenge.