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HDDs drive next-gen car infotainment systems

Posted: 03 Mar 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:HDD? car infotainment? automobile?

Scott Wright
Toshiba Storage Device Division

The Internet, wireless technology and mobility devices are transforming the way consumers connect with digital information and entertainment. Automobiles have become a natural extension for information and content delivery. Automakers and dealers have recognized that extending and enhancing the home digital experience in the car not only adds value and differentiation to their product lines, but also enables consumers to seamlessly integrate the digital lifestyle from home to work to the automobile. As a result, automakers and product vendors are beginning to rethink the way automotive infotainment has been traditionally delivered.

Addressing this demand, TMI Products' Vizualogic unit and Toshiba have collaborated on a new system designed to drive the next generation of car infotainment as the market rapidly evolves. TMI is a manufacturer of high-value interior automotive components such as seating, interior consoles, floor coverings, door panels, convertible roof assemblies, headliners, and integrated electronic systems. Its Vizualogic division specializes in the development and manufacture of high-quality integrated mobile electronic systems and accessories.

Integrated infotainment
Vizualogic recognized the emerging market opportunity for integrated infotainment solutions and moved to capitalize on its in-car entertainment expertise and market know-how with a solution designed to bridge this content delivery and connectivity gap.

Conventional in-car entertainment systems have consisted of integrated common play-back components, such as CD, DVD, and MP3 players. Vizualogic aimed to take this concept to the next level by utilizing wireless technology to enable consumers to more conveniently and safely control the type of content they are able to receive and view.

The company focused on development of a vehicle under-seat-mounted, media-on-demand (VMOD) system that combined the functionalities of TMI's headrest-installed entertainment system with the ability to wirelessly connect to personal digital movies, music, and images from a home digital library or from third-party source downloads.

With a vast majority of consumers using a Windows-based platform on their home computers, TMI felt this OS would be an integral part of the VMOD foundation. It was reasoned that users would seek a familiar and stable operating platform that offered a strong number of drivers and codecs that could be easily interpreted and recognized by the VMOD infotainment system, thereby enhancing flexibility for third-party programming.

VMOD combines TMI's headrest-installed entertainment system with the ability to wirelessly connect to personal digital movies, music, and images from a home digital library or from third-party source downloads.

As users download audio, video, and other types of digital infotainment content, a versatile and extensible VMOD approach also required enough storage capacity to enable future feature upgrades and digital data additions. Because the average ownership of a vehicle is seven to 10 years, most consumers would expand their digital libraries over that periodtherefore, storage capacity would need to be robust enough to accommodate evolving storage demands.

Storage challenge
Development engineers were faced with an additional challenge: Constructing a solid hardware foundation that could withstand the demanding automobile environment, including wide ranges of temperature, vibration, and G forces, along with diverse altitudes, different humidity levels, and EMI and other noise. In addition, hardware would need to be energy efficient to minimize heat and be small enough to fit into the overall VMOD module designall while maintaining a high level of performance to deliver an excellent customer experience. These factors meant Vizualogic's VMOD system would require customized storage reflecting the unique features of operating in this exacting environment.

The company looked to Toshiba Storage Device Division and its automotive-grade HDD to provide high capacity and performance, while mitigating all of the environmental factors associated with operating in the automotive environment.

Offering 40Gbyte of storage, Toshiba's automotive-grade HDD provided Vizualogic with the capability to deliver a differentiated product to the marketmedia management that allowed consumers to wirelessly transfer and store digital content from their computers into their automobiles.

TMI used a 2.5-inch ATA 4,200 rpm disk drive (MK4036GAC) to deliver the performance and utility required for VMOD. The 40Gbyte capacity was sufficient to accommodate a Windows XP OS, while still providing extensive storage to house a library of music, video, and other digital content. In addition, these HDDs were small enough to slide into the tight enclosure required for installation, thus, not limiting installation to larger vehicles.

Another critical factor addressed by the automotive HDD was temperature. To be considered a true automotive-grade product, most OEM vehicle manufacturers require rigorous temperature testing to ensure sustained high performance through cold winters, the dampness of humid climates, and the dry air and heat of desert conditions. These tests required the product to withstand -35C to 85C over a test plan that covered 1,600 hours. TMI conducted additional testing of the drives, pushing up temperature testing to 93C for 168 hours without loss of performance.

In addition to temperature, TMI conducted further chamber testing at 85 percent relative humidity with no failures.

Toshiba's automotive-grade HDD allows Vizualogic to offer media management that lets consumers wirelessly transfer and store digital content from their PC into their automobiles.

With Toshiba's automotive HDDs specifically designed for robustness, they offered exceptional vibration and shock resistance. TMI further tested a 3G shock on a vehicle over a 100 times with no data loss and no physical damage to the automotive HDD.

The Toshiba automotive HDDs also were able to operate on 5V, essentially keeping power consumption to a minimum, which resulted in lower operating temperatures.

Performance test
Satisfied with the physical testing of the drive, TMI then tested for performance to ensure the automotive HDD could keep up with the advanced data transfer that was an integral part of the VMOD systemconsumers would expect fast wireless downloads from the home to the car. The drives were able to provide an 8Mbyte buffer and transfer rates of up to 100MBps, delivering excellent transfer rates to download digital content.

The company's headrest-installed DVD player and monitor play movies and music stored on the Toshiba HDD. The VMOD system remains compatible with other rear-seat entertainment systems, storing video, music, images, and virtually any digital file transferred wirelessly from a computer or other source. The end result is an HDD-based multimedia system that allows consumers to play games and watch movies, browse the Internet, download and listen to music, and enjoy other media experiences conveniently and safely.

Toshiba's auto HDD addressed the capacity, ruggedness, extended operating range and reliability challenges to help transform Vizualogic's plans into a true digital infotainment experiencecreating a high-quality solution that provides passengers with a complete array of navigation, infotainment, and entertainment options. According to Vizualogic, it would not have been possible to achieve the performance, quality, and functionality the company strived for without Toshiba's auto-grade HDD. Vizualogic continues to enhance the VMOD system, which is available through its dealer network and on an OEM basis from automakers worldwide.

What's next?
The availability of high-capacity, ruggedized HDDs is propelling a transition in the way consumers interact with their digital information and entertainment options in the car, exemplified by innovative media center alternatives such as the VMOD system. These robust media center options are transcending traditional media-delivery mechanisms and single-function electronics devices, as more interactive and Internet-oriented digital content platforms come to market. The demand for auto-grade HDDs will continue to grow as automakers and OEMs require robust storage solutions capable of receiving, storing and delivering digital content from video, music, gaming, and more.

About the author
Scott Wright
is product marketing manager for automotive HDDs at Toshiba storage device division.

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