In a society increasingly obsessed with communications and tracking information, it's no surprise that consumers expect to keep connected whether they are at home or on the road. While driving, people are likely to use cell phones, pagers, the Internet, and navigation systems, or even watch a movie or play a game from the second seat in some vehicles. But it's impractical to allocate space so each item can sit conveniently within the drivers reach.
One mechatronic-type solution eliminates individual control knobs, pushbuttons, and rocker switches with a single touch screen mounted in a console between driver and passenger. Bringing these functions together in one interactive display makes driving safer and information retrieval more convenient, but the job of integrating them into one console can be daunting. For example, the control hardware for items such as audio amplifiers, AM/FM tuners, CD-ROMs, pagers, and global-positioning systems must be transparent to users and occupy as little space as possible behind the instrument panel. Moreover, these controls must contain microprocessors to meet the size and power requirements of the job.
A practical solution for such integration now comes in a flexible, modular, mobile computing platform with an open architecture that lets automakers develop driver-information systems easily and relatively cheaply. Called MobileGT, the system comprises Motorola's PowerPC for the MPC823e microcontroller built on an automotive-specific hardware computer platform (RPX-Lite) from Embedded Planet, Austin, Tex. Development tools for the platform come from IBM, QNX Software Systems Inc., and Metrowerks. The microcontroller's open architecture lets OEMs and suppliers create more imaginative solutions and maintain control over their system design while integrating a wide range of products, such as multimedia entertainment systems, that they can easily implement themselves.
In addition to hardware, supporting software called Neutrino, a real-time operating system from QNX, and the J9 Java Virtual Machine from IBM, can integrate all types of driver-information systems. Modules are being developed by independent software vendors to offer a wide range of applications to support the platform. These include navigation, global-positioning systems, natural language speech, automotive-specific object libraries, wireless connectivity, and car audio and data storage.