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Barr Ellison Solicitors – commercial property
25 February, 2019 - 14:57 By Tony Quested

Cambridge technology helps in-car comms zoom into overdrive

Cambridge-based VNC Automotive and German partner Alpine Electronics GmbH have expanded the functionality of car maker infotainment systems by scaling more applications and services direct from the dash.

VNC Automotive is a UK connectivity specialist and Alpine a trailblazer in automotive electronics and they have just unveiled the Android ‘Add-On Box.’

Alpine has been working on this fully loaded, feature rich device that sits discreetly within the vehicle, and allows car makers to vastly expand the functionality of their infotainment systems. Consumers in turn benefit from pre-configured and seamless access to these services and applications.

After the steady proliferation of smartphone integration in-vehicle over the last decade, ‘black box’ system-on-chip devices are becoming increasingly popular with auto manufacturers. 

Essentially a smartphone without a screen, it removes the burden of making a myriad of consumer phones play nicely with embedded head units and hence the problem of continually updating the infotainment system itself. 

The ‘black box’ approach provides a consistent, intelligent applications hosting platform and the head unit acts as a big display – together providing next-gen infotainment. 

How is connecting a ‘black box’ different to connecting a smartphone? The unifying goal is to improve the driving experience, enabling the time spent in vehicle to be as entertaining, efficient and safe as possible. 

The benefits of Alpine’s Add-On Box is that you connect the box once and forget about it. There are no interoperability issues between the box and the head unit, which can be a constraint with handsets. 

Another consideration by automakers when scoping in smartphone connectivity is which connectivity standard to implement; popular standards such as CarPlay and AndroidAuto still appear fragmented depending on vehicle model or geographic region. 

Yet the demand from consumers for intuitive navigation and media streaming remains widespread. In this sense the Add-On Box acts as a good leveller. It provides popular applications and services for everyone no matter what handset, head unit or global location.

Tom Blackie, CEO of VNC Automotive, who led a buy-out from RealVNC, says: “We have a rich history of working with Alpine to support their best-in-class infotainment systems and VNC Automotive is delighted to partner on this latest project. 

“Our software provides the connectivity protocol between the Add-On-Box and the head unit. Instantaneous access and virtually no latency are everything when it comes to the IVI user experience and this is the expertise we brought to the project.  

“Whilst smartphone integration remains a must for virtually all incoming connected car projects, for production vehicles starting 2020-2023 we’ve seen a dramatic uplift in ‘black box’ centric IVI. 

“This is an increasingly neat approach by the likes of Alpine and their automakers to provide additional infotainment, entertainment and telematics applications.

“Reliance on third party standards and frequent IVI software updates are removed, putting the automaker back in control, with a solution that’s future-proof.”

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