The Human-Machine Interface (HMI) is becoming standard not only in premium cars, but in all car segments. While infotainment screens in the center console have long been a staple, studies show* that in 2017, 80% of cars will ship with a digital screen in the instrument cluster. Car manufacturers are working to achieve a common branded look-and-feel across all of their car segments. (* IHS: "Automotive User Interfaces", Nov 2014)
Kanzi has been shipping in automotive since 2012. Today we’ve made a major announcement about a new extension to our Kanzi product, titled Kanzi Lite, which extends the capabilities of Kanzi to all car segments – from volume models to premium models. In this post, we’ll talk about the challenges in creating HMIs for various car segments.
One of the key challenges in creating HMIs for cars is the difference in hardware and software platforms across segments and price ranges.
With mid-and high-end car models that have digital dashboards with large infotainment screens and high-definition digital instrument clusters, the manufacturer can choose to go with an automotive System-on-a-Chip (SoC), sporting a dedicated GPU and plenty of system resources (including RAM and ROM memory). With support for the OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics API, these platforms enable designers and engineers to produce great-looking real-time graphical user interfaces using a tool like Kanzi.
Picture: Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster in the 2015 Audi Q7, powered by Rightware Kanzi
But when car manufacturers choose the hardware for a lower-end, high-volume car model, the Bill-Of-Materials becomes increasingly more important. They still want the car to provide HMIs, both for infotainment and the instrument cluster, but with a smaller size and resolution, and with reduced functionality. Car manufacturers will then look into using a lower-cost Microcontroller unit (MCU). These units, while low in price, often lack dedicated graphics hardware, don’t support standards such as OpenGL and have significantly fewer system resources available, making them challenging to develop for. When working with a System-on-a-Chip, you may have access to 2 gigabytes of RAM, but with a microcontroller unit, you only have 2-4 megabytes of RAM at your disposal! Fitting a great-looking, responsive HMI into such a small amount of memory is a challenge.
When working with a System-on-a-Chip, you may have access to 2 gigabytes of RAM, but with a microcontroller unit, you only have 2-4 megabytes of RAM at your disposal
Picture: Hybrid instrument cluster in a 2015 Chrysler 300
In working with microcontroller units, car manufacturers have realized that developing graphics code for these units is time-consuming and error-prone, as each microcontroller family is different and requires a new code base to be developed. And as always when your development approach is based on code generation, there is a high risk of errors and a long turnaround for each iteration.
With the introduction of Kanzi Lite, we’re changing the game. We're making our Kanzi Engine platform available across all platforms, from microcontroller units to SoCs. Car manufacturers no longer have to develop and generate user interface code for their microcontroller platforms. Instead, Kanzi Engine runs on the target hardware and provides a complete user interface framework with support for e.g. image and text rendering, layouts, bindings, animations, state managers, input and gestures. Kanzi Engine also provides developers with a robust API for connecting the user interface with the application code and underlying business logic in the vehicle. We’ve optimized the Kanzi Engine so that its footprint fits into small amounts of memory, while still leaving space for great-looking HMI designs.
After our Kanzi Engine is installed onto the platform, graphics designers can simply move their HMI design file from Kanzi Studio onto the device memory without having to generate any code.
Kanzi Lite brings the power of Kanzi to all automotive hardware platforms.