Addressing key challenges in automotive infotainment test with the NI PXI Platform

4 mins read

Automobiles have experienced rapid growth in the amount of in-vehicle electronics in recent years and a key area where these electronics are playing a vital role is in the infotainment system of the vehicle. In fact, the infotainment systems have become somewhat of a hub for a number of functions of the vehicle, and represent where both large amounts of information and driver entertainment are converging. Not only do they continue to blur the line between the driver’s mobile phone and the car for entertainment purposes, but there is also an overlap with important components of advanced driver assistant systems (ADAS).

Testing system challenges

Due to this wide range of constantly-evolving capabilities, automotive OEMs and suppliers face many challenges in trying to test and validate the systems effectively.To combat these challenges companies learn how the modular, NI PXI platform combined with powerful software can enable more efficient and reliable testing of the extremely complex infotainment systems in the modern automobile.

Because infotainment systems have increasingly more functionality and are being designed to perform tasks that have never been seen before in a car, they have to take input from a number of different sources, which often means it isn’t the same kind of I/O from each, for example, a single system combines video data from in-vehicle cameras, GPS data for navigational systems, Bluetooth connectivity to the driver’s mobile phone, controller area network (CAN) communication from distributed ECUs, and many others. Automotive engineers have been working with certain types of I/O, like CAN communication and analogue signals, for many years and are very comfortable with them, but as the area of infotainment continues to grow in popularity, they are now being forced to work with the additional types of I/O like RF signals and video data, creating the necessity to develop new expertise while also having to use new test and validation tools that support all types of I/O. The same hardware and software test tools used in the past simply won’t meet the demands of these new systems.

Let’s consider the situation where a driver is travelling to an unfamiliar destination while streaming music from their cell phone and adjusting key comfort features like temperature, seat position, etc. In trying to replicate this circumstance in order to test an infotainment system, an automotive company will need to simultaneously test GPS communication for the navigational system, Bluetooth connectivity to a phone, the quality of the streaming audio, and possibly CAN communication to an HVAC system. In order to accurately test the operation of the system that is performing these many functions, it is critical to have the right connectivity to all of this I/O while also having tight synchronisation amongst all of the data. This will allow for a more detailed analysis to understand what was occurring at exact times in different parts of the system.

The PXI Platform

This is where the NI PXI platform combined with powerful software toolkits and APIs can enable engineers to perform these complicated tests on the many different I/O types at the same time. From the industry’s most accurate 7½-digit digital multimeter (DMM) to 26.5GHz microwave measurements, National Instruments has more than 500 products to cover your measurement and test needs. National Instruments offers a PXI timing and synchronisation product line. This portfolio spans low-cost solutions to the industry’s highest performance PXI Express timing and synchronisation modules to deliver synchronisation over any distance and with up to picosecond accuracy.

One of the defining characteristics of the infotainment application space is the ever-growing number of standards and protocols that are in place for audio and video broadcast, global navigational standards, cellular network communication, and external device connectivity. The number of standards that are in the industry continues to increase, thus creating a challenge for companies to be able to implement features that consumers are asking for quickly. This involves being able to validate the device under test’s capability with each standard individually, forcing the test platform to be flexible enough to do so. However, many of the tools used for these standards do not have the inherent flexibility to be able to adapt to new standards and are only designed to test one.

The large number of protocols and standards used in infotainment systems continues to grow, pushing the limits of many test platforms.

current limitations of hardware and software test tools only designed for one standard at a time has forced many engineers and companies to investigate how they can get the maximum amount of reuse out of their testing platform by using flexible tools that can adapt to testing multiple pieces with the same hardware. The National Instruments PXI platform is again ideal to address this challenge because of the modular hardware platform that can be reconfigured with key software tools. The Vector Signal Generator from National Instruments can be used to simulate GPS signals and can then be re-programmed to broadcast and simulate digital audio broadcast, or DAB, data. This flexibility helps companies to achieve maximum ROI on their testing strategy.

Designing Automated Test Systems

The amount of software used to control and operate infotainment systems continues to grow along with the system capabilities.Prior to the devices going to production, the software is developed and changed frequently as more and more features are implemented. A fundamental challenge for the development teams is introduced when a software change is made and needs to be validated. In addition to the specific change itself needing to be tested, everything else that has previously been validated must also be tested to ensure that other functions were not affected. This can mean that thousands upon thousands of previously-validated tests must be performed again, and doing this manually can cost a company significant amounts of time and money.

The need to automate this series of regression tests at many points throughout development is evident in all companies designing these systems and the NI platform is well-equipped to do so. By taking advantage of software-defined test, engineers can design their own automated test systems that use the aforementioned flexible hardware modules programmed by software that seamlessly integrates through intuitive APIs and toolkits. In addition, test automation software used in conjunction with the rest the platform helps to maximise test efficiency and allows engineers to reuse previous tests from earlier in the design process.

Infotainment capabilities in the latest automobiles are often viewed as key competitive advantages and are in high-demand by consumers, making their reliable and safe operation imperative for automotive manufacturers. In order to achieve this, the systems must be tested and validated to ensure safety and that they will meet consumer expectations. As the complexity of these systems continues to grow at a rapid pace, there are many challenges that automotive engineers will face.

The NI PXI platform is well-positioned to meet these challenges and help engineers overcome problems by providing an extensive set of hardware and software tools, taking advantage of software-defined instrumentation, and providing the ability for test system automation to maximise test throughput and reuse.

Find out more about the NI PXI platform:

Download the PXI 101 Technical E-kit