Home entertainment electronics are finding their way into new vehicles, merging with car-specific functions such as navigation, hands-free phone control, and telematics. "Infotainment" as the technology has been termed, describes the complete ecosystem of electronic devices for automobile-based information and entertainment. Audio and video devices, as well as navigation systems and telematics, are merging into single, fully-integrated systems, creating new challenges for system designers.
Much of the responsibility for the quality of the infotainment system rests with the designers of in-car radio. Thanks to technological breakthroughs in integrated circuits, filters, amplifiers, and antenna designs, sound quality has improved with each new generation of receiver. Broadcasting technology itself has also been upgraded through the Radio Data System (RDS) extension, which offers specialized features for mobile receivers.
Terrestrial digital broadcasting systems, such as digital audio broadcasting (DAB), HD-Radio, Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), and satellite radio, offer a suite of attractive advantages, although they are still striving to achieve mainstream customer awareness and high-volume market success.
Since more radio functions generally requires additional hardware, available space within the automotive radio-head unit is hard to come by. The compact nature of the electronics also leads to power consumption and heat dissipation problems which must be addressed. The close proximity of electronic systems within the radio-head unit can cause interference and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) issues, which can result in serious performance problems. This is especially true for sensitive analog building blocks such as the receiver front end and signal lines. Designers must work carefully, using shielding and rigorous testing, to verify that the effects of EMC and interference can be controlled.
Developing next-generation automotive radio platforms that are cost-effective and robust enough to meet customer demands will be a challenge for both OEMs and suppliers. The rapidly accelerating technologies of these systems will require robust product design followed by thorough product qualification. These challenges along with the growing market demand spell potential job opportunities for system designers and engineers with a good handle on EMI issues. We just need to keep our eyes on the road.