Automotive Infotainment is more than just fun and games

Kevin Parmenter, Power Systems Design Contributor



Kevin Parmenter, Power Systems Design Contributor

Automotive infotainment systems in passenger cars are projected to be a $35+ billion market by 2020, based on the fact that consumers are increasingly becoming connected, 24x7, as they access their data and content wherever they go. Travel and entertainment are merging due to consumers’ expectations and capabilities for audio, video, control, heads-up displays, and more. Meanwhile connectivity in all types of consumer products is being spurred by the growth of sophisticated computing, networking, IoT, phone and other electronics. 

Basically, when they enter their cars, consumers wish to bring their platforms, information on their world, and experiences with them; so music play lists, cell phones, connectivity, files, music, videos, information on the vehicle and surroundings are with them wherever they go. The automotive industry doesn’t want to be left behind, not providing cars with these capabilities and losing out to other, savvier suppliers. 

In addition, automotive companies themselves do not want to miss out on the potential revenue models these customers represent. (Of course the auto companies look at the computer and consumer model for selling software, upgrades, premium services, apps, etc. and want a part of that revenue “action”.)

One of the biggest steps for the automotive companies who are slowly “getting it” is the adoption of open systems and open-source platforms instead of proprietary interfaces. It seems they’ve listened to new car customers complaining about paying $2,500 for an optional GPS system, and $750 for DVD software upgrades for the GPS system, when their phone already provides these continually-updated capabilities for free. 

It’s easy to envision a time when drivers will be able to run location-based services, such as WAZE, on their car’s integrated cockpit system. At the same time, consumers do want the most leading-edge rear-seat entertainment systems in their cars – again, because passengers expect home theater-like experiences while they ride.

All this change is going to “move some people’s cheese” – for example, providers of satellite radio might need to figure out how they can add more value to compete with network-connected cars that can access a library of music, which a few years ago would have taken a lifetime to acquire, at little or no cost.  It will also end up up-ending the business models of entrenched companies and forcing them to change or become irrelevant, which will be interesting to watch.

Some challenges for car manufacturers will be how to make using in-car infotainment safe for the driver and passengers and not a distraction; not to mention, how to secure the connected car from hackers and viruses. Perhaps the self-driving car will enable us to all enjoy in-car infotainment experience and to be more productive, while letting the car do all the driving, which, in turn, will cut down on accidents, road rage and auto theft.

In addition to creating infotainment experiences, engineers are poised to solve some of society’s challenges and make a significant difference in the travel experience. These changes in the automotive arena will create huge opportunities for engineers. And power electronics is going to be integral to making it all work and all these new features and functions need lots of power electronics.