8/1/2005 | 7 MINUTE READ

EuroAuto: The Future of Electronics at Audi

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What does the future hold at Audi?


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What does the future hold at Audi? More electronics, for one thing. Expect a much greater integration of mobile consumer electronic devices such as the iPod, the MP3 player or USB sticks into the vehicle with Bluetooth being the key enabler. However, a significant factor in the German automaker's thinking is that the increasing demand for the latest electronic items notwithstanding, the "over 60s" segment of its customer base is growing. What's more, the group ranging in age from 60 to 70 has the greatest purchasing power. This means, says Michael Renz, head of central marketing at Audi, that the emphasis must be placed on helping the customer to operate the vehicle intuitively and safely rather than on patronizing them: "In-car electronics consequently need to provide age-appropriate solutions and straight-forward operating concepts for complex systems. To satisfy these requirements, new standards in the operation of automotive infotainment are being defined."

Renz explains, "The Audi MMI [Multi Media Interface] system aims to keep enhancing ease of operation, safety and communication of information for older people, too. Gesture recognition by means of special 3D cameras, new display technologies and laser projections are important elements in the implementation of new concepts. Enhanced safety is assured by implementing assistance functions and intelligent information management such as call suppression if the momentary traffic situation is critical."

However, it is not just the aging population that is guiding Audi's thoughts on its future products but also the widening of its market base geographically. "Increasing globalization is a further trend," says Renz. "The topic of navigation in Asian markets exemplifies the wide-ranging differences in requirements from one region to another. Navigation systems with 3D graphics, animated buildings and real-image representations are already standard there, and Asian characters and an MMI system optimized to each specific country are an absolute ‘must'. In order to satisfy the credentials of a global player, all standards such as characters, modified system languages, differing national network standards and statutory requirements need to be met." What's more, Eastern European countries are becoming increasingly important to Audi. In Russia, for example, 12-cylinder A8s are immensely popular. So they realize they'll need to have a navigation system that uses Cyrillic characters.

According to Renz, the rapid implementation of regional differences requires modular software: "This modularity will make it possible to adapt the software to typical national requirements or individual custo-mer needs flexibly and independently of the hardware. This clearly demonstrates how important even the domain of electronics that is not visible to the customer is."

One issue related to the deployment of consumer electronic devices in vehicles, Renz notes, is that the automotive development cycles of around three to four years and production lifespan of about seven years contrasts poorly with development cycles of just a few months and a product lifespan of often less than one year in the world of computers, processors and other electronic terminal devices. "The solution to this dilemma involves designing the electronics in a vehicle in such a way that they can be subsequently updated and upgraded at any time," says Renz. "Although this situation adds to the complexity of the development phase, it opens up prospects for keeping the vehicle up to date over a longer period. It also provides scope for new business models."

Bluetooth, the open standard that is valid worldwide for wireless close-range communication for voice and data in the license-exempt 2.4 GHz frequency band, looks set to be a vital key in this area, says Peter Kohlschmidt, head of connectivity development at Audi. "Even in the mobile phone industry, with its rapid innovation and product development cycles, after the official founding of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group [SIG] in 1998, it took until the end of 2000 before the first production-ready mobile phone with integrated Bluetooth headset preparation appeared. This first volume-produced business phone with this hands-free profile did not appear on the market until the end of 2001. At the end of 2002 there were then eight mobile phone platforms, one year later as many as 28, then 78 at the end of 2004 and 115 in May 2005, often with several different model versions with a hands-free profile. Today, the Bluetooth SIG mentions hands-free use as the application that has helped Bluetooth to achieve a broad-based breakthrough. A recent study found that 120 million Bluetooth chips had been delivered worldwide by the end of 2004 and that 1.2 billion of these chips will have been sold by 2009. Studies quote the increasing spread of retrofit solutions or ex-works, prompted by legislation as well as growing familiarity of end users with this technology."

It is for this reason that Audi is launching the new Bluetooth car phone with the launch of the new Audi Q7 which will be able to be "left in the jacket pocket" and not be placed in an adapter set. The Audi Bluetooth car phone solution will shut down the GSM stage of the cell phone completely. "The mobile phone will thus serve as a mobile SIM card reader," says Kohlschmidt. "No twin card or constant juggling of SIM cars, as with a classic built-in phone, will be necessary. The data for authenticating the user will be transmitted via Bluetooth in a secure, encrypted form. The control unit built into the vehicle contains an integral GSM module that establishes an optimum radio connection with the phone network via the vehicle's exterior aerial. The big advantage is that the mobile phone no longer radiates any transmission energy inside the car. In other words, a connection to the external aerial is no longer needed on the mobile phone. As the mobile phone's power consumption is also significantly reduced thanks to the GSM stage being shut down, the now-customary battery capacity means that the mobile phone need not be recharged in the car even on a long journey. The SIM's card's phone book can moreover be accessed, though not the contact details saved in the phone itself. However, our developers are already working on the latter aspect and we will have come up with a solution by the end of this year."

The popularity of the Apple iPod is another factor carmakers are having to address, especially following the demand by consumers to have it as a fitment in their cars. "Since market launch, over 10 million players have been delivered worldwide, including 8.2 million in 2004 alone," says Kohlschmidt. "This has prompted calls both from this device's market and from the market in general to integrate MP3 players into the vehicle, not simply to play music via the vehicle's speakers but also to control the device's functions via the MMI. There are various technical options for this integration into the vehicle. Undoubtedly the fastest and most obvious solution would be to connect it up directly to an interface in the vehicle via a device-specific interface. However, such a solution will mean it is only possible to connect up the devices on one particular manufacturer rather than all portable music players, as the cable-dependent interfaces of the various MP3 player manufacturers are not standardized. Microsoft's portable players based on the ‘PlayForSure' concept are strongly backing the USB interface."

Kohlschmidt points out that there are electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and software complexity in integrating it into vehicles. Other devices use either their own specific interfaces or do not offer any scope for remote control over and above an analogue connection of the audio signal. With cell phone manufacturers currently pursuing the strategy of integrating MP3 players into a multimedia smart phone, there appears to be a potential solution for the transfer of audio data to the vehicle, says Kohlschmidt, especially as the standard of quality it achieves is on a par with high-grade MP3 compression. Audi has consequently developed an initial prototype of a Bluetooth audio gateway for the vehicle environment that not only features playback via the vehicle's speakers but also remote control of the portable audio player with Stop, Play, Pause, Next Track, Previous Track, Next Playlist and Previous Playlist commands.

"A number of technical hurdles nevertheless remain to be overcome before a solution that is fit for production use is realized," say Kohlschmidt. "On the one hand, the constellation of commands that are currently possible is inadequate for full integration into the MMI. Above all, there is a need for a more convenient way of navigating through the music tracks stored on the mobile device - sorted by playlists, tracks, albums, artists or music styles - and for a means of displaying detailed information about the music track currently playing. On the other hand, it is necessary to find a solution to the problems posed by pieces of music that are protected by copyright, where the licensor expressly prohibits digital transmission in the license agreements, as is actually the case with Bluetooth audio streaming. These requirements will need to be included in a future version of the standard by the Bluetooth SIG, so that there are no longer any obstacles to the full integration of mobile music players in the car."