How do we Use Audio in Vehicles 10 Years from Now? Trends and Developments in Automotive Audio

July 20, 2016:

 

The rapid technological development in digital audio as well as the growing importance of electronics, software and connectivity in vehicles leads to the questions: How do we use Audio in vehicles 10 years from now? Which trends will gain recognition? What challenges do automotive manufacturers and suppliers face in order to inspire the customers with outstanding sound and services in the future?

On the occasion of the 140. International AES Convention Wolfram Jähn (AUDI AG), Martin Kreißig (Daimler AG), Ulrich Fox (Bose Automotive), Timo Esser (Alpine Electronics) as well as Armin Prommersberger (HARMAN International) discussed challenges, trends and developments in the field of Automotive Audio and debated possible impacts on the whole industry. Dr. Alfred Svobodnik, Vice-Chairman of AES Technical Committee Automotive Audio, moderated the panel discussion. In the following you will find the summary:

 

Profound changes in the automotive industry and its importance for Automotive Audio

Changes in mobility became obvious. The transformation process in the automotive industry is in full swing. The digitization of the vehicle, particularly the automation of driving functions up to autonomous driving, the change of power systems, the transformation from product to service through new business models and mobility concepts stand out. They are considered highly relevant for competition.

In the past the automotive industry was more influenced by hardware – a cool car body with rich horsepower under the hood – in the meantime software solutions are becoming more and more important. Heading: autonomous driving and connectivity, “always on” generation. New companies, especially in the IT and data environment also gain influence over final consumers on the market, product and processes. This requires a rethinking of the entire industry.

 

Merging development times

Vehicle development is associated with highestquality standards – sophisticated solutions right down to the last detail, perfection. But perfection iscostly in regards to time and money. The product life cycle of a vehicle is about six years at present.

This means that also speakers and amplifiers are selected and developed six years in advancedue to extensive crash, temperature and safety tests in order to ensure that the end user receives a proper product.

However, companies in the Silicon Valley often need only a few months from the first idea to the final product. It stands to reason that the approach to revolutionize existing products and industriesis a motivation driver par excellence. The new market entrant TESLA for example is gaining market share by offering innovative concepts.

A vehicle is a highly complex product whose development time is not comparable with software. Nevertheless the participants of the panel discussion agreed that the different development cycles of software, audio and automotive manufacturers as well as connectivity solution providers should be merged successfully in the future in order to meet customer expectations. A challenge that re- quires utmost efforts!

 

Generation Y moves intuitively on the internet and is looking for appropriate solutions in vehicles

According to recent studies the car as a status symbol is losing its importance. In the past, the generation of baby boomers worked hard for buying a fancy car. The generation Y, the so-called millennials, have a different attitude. They rent cars or use services such as car2go or DriveNow.

They are satisfied with the speakers on their mobile phone, they wear their music library in their pocket and stream music. They grew up with the digitization and move intuitively on the internet.

Buyers of Tesla no longer see the vehicle as pure transportation. For them, it is also an expressionof their individuality. They like new features and apps that are downloadable.
In contrary, an owner of a car who would like to give the car an individual touch today, for example, buys a new set of wheel rims.

Automotive manufacturers and suppliers have this changed attitude of millennials on the screen. They are working already on future mobility concepts.

 

Approach to the car of tomorrow: Maximum comfort and safety

The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transportation. The industry is looking for ways to offer vehicles to its customers with maximum comfort and safety. This means great opportunities for Automotive Audio.

On one hand, to develop intelligent solutions to control the sound, to eliminate disturbing noises, (for example: motor noises, wind noises, vibrations). On the other hand to meet the rising demandfor individualization. In an increasingly hectic world audio experience also serves as a retreat and away to relax. And the vehicle offers best conditions to enjoy excellent sound, in terms of a wellness oasis.

With a view to autonomous driving, the development is still in its infancy. When drivingautonomously, the driver will be flooded with information that needs to be made visible. Afterestablishment of autonomous driving the driver (better to say passenger) can make use of his time in a completely different way. Many opportunities open for the industry, such as the integration ofcomplete entertainment systems with screens. By integrating premium sound the high demands ofthe music enthusiasts can be served even better. In addition, speech recognition systems become more important, for example to provide passengers with different information.

The sound system and, consequently, the sound itself in the vehicle is not the buying criteria when choosing a vehicle. That can be seen from the explanations above. Therein all panelists agreed.The question to the AES Auditorium confirmed this statement. But, in case a premium soundsystem is integrated, it delivers mostly high driving experience satisfaction to the end user, stated one of the OEM representatives. Especially when driving electric vehicles this differentiation islikely to have a strong influence on the market success of the vehicles.

 

Integration of Information and Communication Technology

One of the outstanding challenges is the integration of information and communication technology. Music libraries on the smartphone, streaming services, apps that provide new features and partlyweekly updates – the networking of everyday lifeamong consumers creates the need to be able to experience the online world in the car. They do not want to wait six years until the next model is available on the market.

The expectation from the audience reflected this. Why is it not possible to use services in a carsimilar to a smartphone if GPS is available in the vehicle, was a question from the auditorium.

Due to the high quality requirements of the automotive industry it is not possible to integrate such services easily at present, explained the panelists. In a modern vehicle one hundred microproces- sors can be integrated. It must be ensured that the consolidated components do not act in an un- predictable way, as this can affect the reliability of critical systems. A faulty response can take lives. In comparison: the smartphone or tablet has one microprocessor, worst case, if there is an interfer- ence, the device is temporarily out of service.

However, as one mega trend the panelists identified the possibility to make new features
and functions available in cars, best possible with a well-balanced release management. Therepresentatives of OEMs and suppliers have confirmed that they are currently looking for intelligentsolutions to use these technologies in the car as well.

In the context of sound systems, the option to download updates or usage of apps or streaming services has hardly been considered. When streaming music data, for example, there could be a risk that the quality of the original sources are not “clean” and consequently problems can be heard. It must be ensured that the integrated sound system is working properly.

A differentiated integration in premium cars with premium sound and compact cars with standard sound systems seems to be needed, stated one of the representatives of suppliers. For small cars, where nowadays 2 – 4 loudspeakers are integrated, different solutions are needed to reproduce outstanding sound in the car and to be able to offer additional applications simultaneously at an adequate price in the future. Innovative solutions are required to overcome the complexity and constraints of traditional door speaker integration and head unit architectures while providing the latest connectivity features. The downscale of a premium sound system to a lower level is not recommended. Experiences from the past show that this won’t lead to a satisfactory compromise, explained the suppliers representative. A completely new concept for seamless, scalable integration was shown at this year’s CES.

In small cars new software technologies are crucial to further improve the sound quality, said another supplier representative.

Thus, sound system integration won’t move to even more speaker integration in the future. In long run, the range of new available applications will be the buying criteria on the selection of a sound system in a car. The fact that the sound system has to create outstanding sound is a given. This is expected by the customers, especially when choosing a premium sound system. Therein all panelists agreed.

 

Technological Development in digital Audio

However, in all discussions about new applications the development of outstandingsound – the centerpiece – should not beneglected, stated the panelists.

In the past 25 years the loudspeaker development in vehicles has increased exponentially.
A premium vehicle nowadays comprises up to 23 speakers perfectly integrated to reproduceoutstanding sound. For about 10 years surround sound systems have been available, for 2 – 3years 3D sound systems have been available in vehicles, in which, for example speakers are integrated in the roof. The centerpiece is a complex algorithm which calculates the signals for each speaker quickly and accurately. A playground for future developments, stated an OEM representative.

Recent developments provide differentiated sound zones specifically for each seating position sothat each passenger is able to enjoy his respectively her favorite music on his/her seat.

In order to minimize development time and development costs, in the past 3 – 5 years thesimulation of sound systems came up. The use of simulation is extremely helpful in the development process, stated an OEM representative. If simulation methods are being used at an early stage in the pre-development phase and continuously being used in the course of furtherproduct development, it is possible to analyze integration problems and to minimize respectivelyeliminate disturbing noise early, before any prototype is being built. This leads to cost savings while at the same time improving the quality.

The above mentioned examples show only a selection of the achieved technological progress. As noted previously, OEM’s and suppliers are working intensively on new solutions for the
future, especially to merge development cycles and to integrate information and communication technologies. It is conceivable that content based on software solutions could be developed separately from the conventional development cycle, however due to necessary crash and safety tests hardware components have to be integrated in the usual manner.

 

Opportunity to develop Audio standards

A key topic within the discussion was the many different data formats of music, sound in mono, stereo or 5.1 surround sound and different sources of origin. Desirable would be a good meta- information, stated one of the OEM representatives. Currently each OEM is looking for their own solutions, in order to use the different formats optimally.

In this context, the panelists started a lively discussion about open interfaces or standard solutionsand better synchronization of product development between OEMs and suppliers.

The idea of common tools was discussed to ensure that engineers can collaborate even closer andmore efficiently in the future. For example: If today the 3D upmixing algorithm is slightly changed,the spectral balance changes automatically. A change in the algorithm can lead to completedifferent impacts due to the individual existing specifications of OEM’s.

Therefore the development of common standards was suggested and encouraged provided that standards have to be developed in that way that the individual OEM brand can be obtained. Thesegmentation in non-differentiable and differentiable services with OEM-specific configurationmakes sense. A good starting point for such a joint research project could be the signal processing, mentioned one of the supplier’s representatives.

 

Reduction of weight and increase in efficiency

The reduction in weight of loudspeakers and loudspeaker systems is another important issue of engineers. This is also important in order to increase the range of electric vehicles.

The reduction of CO2 emissions continues to be a challenge for the automotive industry to meet the CO2 regulations worldwide. An example for audio solutions is the development of a one liter bass.

Today conventional vehicles use around about 50 kg sound-absorbing material in order to minimizedisturbing noise (engine noise, road noise, wind noise etc.). In the last years this damping material was replaced by electronic devices such as microphones, speakers and accelerometers. A new business area for audio experts has come up.

Basically a distinction is made between two technology groups:

 

  • Applications that generate the desired engine noise, both outside and inside the vehicle
  • Applications that compensate disturbing engine or road noise inside the vehicle.

 

The applications are either an integral part of the respective infotainment system or integrated separately into the existing sound system. Microphones are installed inside the cabin and accelerometers, for example, at the wheel suspension. The applications eliminate unwanted noise by active noise control and offer the passengers a quiet ambience. In order to generate external engine noise, used for example for electric vehicles, additional speakers are integrated on the vehicle front or rear.

As the electric and hybrid cars are not registered as being in motion because there is no engine noise there is a risk in safety. Therefore in Europe, USA and Japan the governments pass regu- lations and laws for a minimum noise level, so that electric and hybrid cars do not become a new source of danger to other road users.

 

Resume and appeal

The market environment is characterized by high and complex dynamics of change. The high and rising relevance of new technologies and their proper integration require utmost efforts of all market participants.

Dr. Alfred Svobodník recommends to create common standards and appeals for a joint research consortium for Automotive Audio in order to integrate also in future outstanding sound in cars of tomorrow in all different model variations, supported by new solutions for networked and automated vehicles. The aim of such a research project should be to enable all involved industries to contribute an overall system on a reliable and legally secure basis. The AES as a global, professional association of audio technology could serve as a neutral platform of such a research consortium.