Standard helps link consumer electronics to cars

  • 16-Sep-2008 02:44 EDT
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DLNA helps consumers synchronize many of their mobile electronic systems.

As automakers struggle to find ways to unite cars and consumer electronics, many are expected to turn to a new standard. The Digital Living Network Alliance has developed a standard that is being used by a number of major consumer-product suppliers to help all types of products communicate and interact.

The DLNA standard is agnostic to connections such as 802.11 and Bluetooth, being compatible to a number of popular protocols. It has seen solid growth since it was completed in 2006, with more acceptance expected.

ABI Research predicts that 85 million DLNA-compatible units will ship this year, soaring to 309 million in 2012. More than 200 computer and consumer companies are members of the alliance.

Chipmakers are leading the charge to help automakers leverage the standard, which should make it simpler to bring devices into the car and synchronize vehicle systems using home networks.

“Everyone wants to easily connect their personal devices to the car,” said Stefan De Troch, Manager of NXP’s Innovation and Development Center. “DLNA is a way of making this possible. You need standards or forget it.”

Along with simplifying communications, the standard could play a role in reducing driver distraction. DLNA can help reduce the user confusion that comes when many devices—each with its own user interface—are carried into the vehicle.

“Carmakers can use DLNA to create their look and feel, so drivers and passengers don’t see the difference between one DLNA device and another,” said Ben Tan, Product Manager for Connected Platforms at Macrovision, a middleware provider.

Macrovision has teamed with NXP, helping the chipmaker port DLNA to silicon. Its middleware will facilitate data transfers between portable gear and automotive systems. “When you bring two devices together, they need to recognize each other. DLNA lets devices share data,” Tan said.

The linkup between NXP and Macrovision highlights a major requirement for the rapidly evolving infotainment industry. No one supplier has all the necessary components for success.

“Infotainment is a completely different game,” said Miguel Stief, Car Infotainment Business Line Marketing Manager at NXP. “Differentiation will come from software. To bring a home experience and Internet to the car, companies will need partners.”

In operation, DLNA specifies systems in device classes, usually classifying them as clients or servers. These classifications can change depending on what’s being done.

For example, when a device is brought into the car and connects via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, it can become a client that can be browsed by the infotainment system, which acts as a server. Conversely, portable devices such as MP3 players or mobile phones can be servers, treating the vehicle’s displays as clients, Tan explained. That gives engineers flexibility to perform different tasks, he noted.

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