Detroit—Fresh off the introduction of new in-car PCs, automakers at the recent Convergence 2000 Conference here began laying the foundation for their next revolution: the influx of home electronics into vehicles.
Working with vendors, auto manufacturers demonstrated plug-and-play capability of camcorders, DVD systems, video games, and personal digital assistants in cars and trucks. "Everyone's goal is to have interoperability of all the electronic devices that can go into an automobile," said Edward Nelson, senior technical specialist for Ford's Scientific Research Laboratory, and a system team leader for the Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration (AMI-C).
At the conference, Ford and AMI-C demonstrated a Lincoln Navigator with a back-seat video system and an IEEE 1394 access port that connects it to a Sony DV camcorder and Sony Playstation II. AMI-C also teamed with Mack Truck and the IDB (Intelligent Transportation System Data Bus) Forum to display a truck cab that integrated a DVD player, Panasonic CD changer, audio CD player with speakers, touch panel controller, cell phone, Palm Pilot and Harman Kardon A/V receiver.
Automakers say that interoperability is important because they want to let occupants engage in more than one electronic activity at a time. By employing the right software and proper bus architectures, they hope to be able to let occupants watch movies, play video games, and download camcorder images—all at the same time.
Engineers say that can't happen, however, using today's architectures. "Everyone wants interoperability, but no one knows how to do it," says Greg Bartlett, president and founder of Digital Harmony Technologies Inc. (Seattle, WA), a developer of hardware and software for the Mack Truck system. "It's what we're all striving for."
To make it happen in the demonstrations, Digital Harmony provided its IEEE 1394-based DHIVA interface modules, which were installed in all of the consumer media devices, enabling them to communicate with the vehicle's multimedia bus. Although the PC-card interface modules now cost $150 each, Digital Harmony is working with Cirrus Logic Inc. (Austin, TX) to scale the PC boards down to a single chip, which is expected to cost $10 by mid-2001.
Vehicles were also equipped with IDB-to-1394 gateways from Strategis Information Systems, Inc. (Purchase, NY), which act as a hub connecting the 1394 copper-based consumer buses to the optical fiber-based 1394 bus in the automobiles.
In-dash gateways would connect portable consumer devices to optical fiber-based IDB-1394 data buses on vehicles.
Engineers say another of the keys to such interoperability is the use of the IDB-1394 high-speed serial bus. Because IEEE 1394 is already used in 10 million camcorders, eight million PCs, and millions of video games, the connection between automobiles and consumer electronics is far easier to make, these designers note.
The high speed of 1394 buses is also seen as a critical element. The data buses, which operate at speeds of 100, 200, and 400 Mbits/sec, are far faster than common CAN (Controller Area Network) buses, which operate at 250 Kbits/sec. That makes them an ideal candidate for video systems, which are generally considered "bandwidth hogs" by engineers.
Although the Mack Truck and Ford systems were done for demonstration purposes only, engineers say that such systems will be a necessity if consumers expect to use home electronics in vehicles. "If your vision is to plug consumer devices into the fiber optic port of the vehicle, than that's certainly a reason for preferring 1394," Nelson said.