Android in Automobile – Android M

  May 26, 2015 6:28:20 AM

Though Android development started for digital cameras, it has been modified for handsets after Google acquired it. Many OEMs launched handsets with Android starting with HTC G1 in 2008. Thereon, Google enhanced Android stack with frameworks that are application development friendly and features that delight consumers, in various versions of Android.

Due to its openness and ease of customization, manufacturers of devices other than handsets began adapting Android for their target devices like Robot, digital cameras, wearables and SmartTVs since 2011. Google also launched Google glass as a separate Android-based project. In Android Lollipop, Google officially included support for TV (Android TV) and wearables (Android Wear).

Google started focusing on including support for automotive segment in Android with the Lollipop (5.0) version. It has included Android Auto in Lollipop. There is news that Google is planning to make Android available on Automotive hardware directly unlike Android Auto. This blog gives specifics of Android Auto and details the features Android M should have to make it usable in Automotive.

In Android Lollipop (5.0) version, Google included Android Auto to extend the functionality of an Android Lollipop mobile device to Automobile head-unit. With Android Auto, the head-unit will be used as just an external display with all the functionality and applications running on mobile device.

Android Auto supports the following features:

  • Navigation
  • Music control including steering wheel controls
  • Telephony
  • SMS

To provide these features, mobile device android auto framework will have access to automobile’s inputs and hardware such as sound system, GPS, directional speakers and microphones, compass and wheel speed. Though data from other ECUs like tyre pressure, fuel and doors are not available to Android Auto in Android Lollipop version, it may be enhanced in Android M version.

While Google is working with various car manufacturers to enhance and enrich Android Auto, it is expected that  Android M will have ‘auto mode’ to make it available on automobile hardware directly unlike Android Auto. As Google reduced time-to-market for handset manufacturers by including frameworks & features in Android, it is expected to include following features which are currently being included in automobile head-unit infotainment systems.

Boot Time:

Boot time is one of the key parameters in automotive infotainment systems because the notifications, indications like rear view camera, seat belt notification, door open/close notification have to be shown as soon as ignition is on because driver starts moving within two to three seconds after ignition is on. While boot time of Android is already unacceptable for automobile systems, introduction of ART in Lollipop version has impacted boot time significantly further. Google has to definitely improve this to avoid usage of another RTOS for critical operations before Android boots up.

Audio inputs:

Android audio subsystem is expected to support inputs specific to automobile like auxiliary input (AUX IN), Apple devices, USB media, Bluetooth audio playback and voice calls.

UX & UX Framework:

UX has to be designed such that driver can easily operate it with no or minimal distortion. Android Auto framework has taken care of these aspects of UX design by studying regulatory requirements of various countries. This UX framework is expected to be included in Android M.

Security:

Security framework has to enforce policies to restrict only certain applications to use data of ECUs which is sensitive and control them.  Additionally, the framework has to restrict installation of only certified applications.

User Inputs/Outputs:

Though Android already has input framework supporting touch and voice, it will have to be enhanced to suppress noise of wind through windows, voice of people other than driver and various other noises on the road. Additionally, Android is expected to enhance input framework to support steering wheel controls. The steering wheel controls are received through CAN bus. Hence, Google should provide CAN framework which uses CAN driver and components available on the hardware/software platform.

Connectivity:

Automobile use-case specific Bluetooth profiles such as A2DP Sink, HFP Client and AVRCP Target have to be added to Android. It is expected that support for these profiles will be added in Android M. 2G/3G/LTE will be available using existing telephony framework.

In Automobile, to enable users to use automobile audio system, it is expected to include support of Auxiliary input, CD and Blu-ray disc.  Though usage of CD is reducing, considering the need of supporting audio books, supporting CD is necessary.

If Google wants to see Android penetrating into high-end, medium and low-cost automobiles, it has to include above features to help car manufacturers with respect to user features and time-to-market of infotainment systems. In releases after Android M, Google has to continue to enhance Android with the following features:

  • Rear view camera and 360 degree birds-eye surround view to support parking
  • Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure/roadside communication with the objective of safety, traffic management, obstacle detection and collision avoidance
  • Driver assistance systems to support lane change, speed limit warnings, restricted entries
  • Host Android applications for automobiles in PlayStore enforcing strict certification process.
  • Hibernate feature that stores the current state of the device before turning off and restores after turning on
  • Of course, Cruise control features in the direction of driverless car such as analysis of traffic condition, signals and control speed automatically.

While Google is planning to enter and increase presence of Android in automobile, Sasken is ready to support infotainment system providers to port and customize Android on automotive platforms of Qualcomm, Freescale, Texas Instruments, Nvidia, Intel. Sasken is already working extensively on infotainment systems based on Android, Linux, RTOS.

Author: Krishna Kishore - Senior Architect,  ERnD Practice

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