User controls and display in the new Audi A3
The A3 is just the latest instance of Audi consolidating one of its greatest strengths: simple and intuitive operation. This compact car, which will be launched in many countries very soon, offers many advanced solutions. Several of them concern infotainment – its hardware, software and user control.
Audi and Nvidia
“German engineering meets Silicon Valley” – a fitting slogan to describe Audi’s partnership with the Nvidia Corporation. Utilizing the fast graphic processors that the Company supplies for many model lines, Audi has attained a leading position in automotive infotainment. Nvidia processors have enabled innovations such as the world’s first integration of Google Earth images and on-board navigation maps.
Audi and Nvidia began working together in 2005. The A4, launched in 2007, used a chip from this producer based in Santa Clara, California. Two years later, the A8 attained a new dimension of visual display using Nvidia technology.
Now, Audi and Nvidia are launching the next stage of their partnership: the new modular infotainment platform utilizes Tegra processors.
The modular infotainment platform
The Audi A3 is the brand’s first model to offer features from the modular infotainment platform. Audi is using this radically new architecture to solve a challenge that is becoming increasingly urgent. Innovations in consumer electronics and rapid gains in computing power occur far more rapidly compared to product cycles of automotive manufacturers.
The central computer in the modular infotainment platform, such as the one Audi currently uses, comprises two units: the Radio Car Control Unit and what is known as the MMX board (MMX: Multi-Media eXtension). The latter is a high-performance plug-in module which integrates – in addition to the RAM and flash-memory modules – the latest Tegra processor from Nvidia. It handles all voice control, online, media, navigation and telephone functions. The new modular layout makes it easy to update the hardware; the fact that the MMX board can be replaced keeps the system at the cutting edge of technology.
In the new Audi A3, the T 20 processor of the Tegra 2 series from market leader Nvidia is used. It is a dual-core processor with 1.2 GHz clock frequency and a fast graphics card. It accelerates playback of many audio and video formats, such as mp3 audio and mpeg4 video, which dominate the world of mobile entertainment.
The T 20 processor works together with a graphics program (known as a 3D engine) from the specialist Rightware, making Audi the first automobile manufacturer able to display three-dimensional graphics in a vehicle. The new A3 is stored in the system as a data model, allowing the driver and passengers to virtually explore it in detail from many different angles.
In 2013, the next generation of processors will make its way into Audi cars: the Tegra 30, which Nvidia recently introduced. With built-in quad-core technology, it operates at up to 1.4 GHz clock frequency.
As in the T 20, its power requirements are minimal – which fits in perfectly with Audi’s efficiency strategy. Nvidia is planning even more powerful chips for upcoming years, and Audi will introduce them in its cars soon after they appear.
The software that runs on the MMX boards also has a modular structure and was developed by Audi largely independently of the hardware. In mid-2009 e.solutions GmbH was founded: a joint venture between Audi Electronics Venture GmbH, a fully owned subsidiary of AUDI AG, and Elektrobit Automotive GmbH, a division of the Finnish IT company Elektrobit. Audi contributes its expertise in automotive infotainment to the partnership, while Elektrobit contributes its know-how as a globally active software company in the infotainment and system integration fields.
More than 150 software specialists at facilities of this young company in Ingolstadt and Erlangen work to develop new modular infotainment solutions. e.solutions GmbH purchases functional software on the global market, e.g. for navigation or telephony, and integrates it into the e.solutions software suite.
Audi’s semiconductor strategy
Microchips are increasingly important not only regarding infotainment, but in all other automotive regards, as well. Semiconductors are rapidly becoming ever more complex and manufacturers are morphing from conventional suppliers into equal partners. Audi is working at top speed to promote progress by means of a strategy called PSCP: Progressive Semi-Conductor Program.
Regarded as strategic partners, eight semiconductor manufacturers will be involved by Audi in development efforts as will the manufacturer of the control unit which makes use of the microchips. We have already successfully completed trial projects. By debating matters intensely with one another, all parties will benefit thanks to better results and fascinating innovations going forward. Moreover, Audi is amassing in-house expertise in semiconductor technology to handle R&D even more adeptly over time.
The new MMI terminal
In addition to the voice-activated control system, the MMI terminal also controls the numerous infotainment functions in the new Audi A3. Engineers designed a new interface from the ground up, giving special consideration to the slim center tunnel console in this compact Audi model.
The key component here is a brand-new part which combines a touchpad with a rotary pushbutton. The pushbutton has a cap with a touch-sensitive surface that lets users enter characters by finger movement. The handwriting recognition system is of the highest quality; the large touchwheel moves with high precision and clicks precisely into place. The pad is surrounded and illuminated by an LED and a light guide.
Two rocker switches in front of the touchwheel directly operate the most important areas of Telephone/Navigation and Media/Radio, while a Menu key and a Back key complete the key set. The four softkeys for navigating through the menus are also chrome-plated, as are the two rocker switches that are used for direct operations. A volume control knob, which can be used to skip tracks, complements the MMI user terminal in the new Audi A3.
Audi has completely revised not only the operation, but also the structure and many details of menus. In the media area, for instance, the player and media center are clearly separated; song titles, albums and artists can be located directly via free text search. The POI search in the navigation system has been simplified; traffic information can be called up via the map. Audi connect services are now portrayed in a designated menu. The CAR menu allows the driver to operate Audi drive select, and many telephone functions have been enhanced.
The new monitor
In the new Audi A3, images are displayed on a 7-inch screen. Thanks to its very high contrast and resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, it delivers brilliant, very sharp 3D graphics; highly efficient LEDs supply its backlighting.
The display extends electrically and elegantly from the instrument panel, and is slightly angled towards the driver. It is a mere 11 millimeters thick – similar to a smartphone. Its layer of glass is united directly with the surface of the TFT screen by means of a special lamination process. There is no air between the two components, which enhances visual output. The coated housing is made of ultra-light magnesium, which saves about 50 grams in weight. High-gloss and chrome accents lend it an elegant touch.
Audi Phone Box
Another option available in the new Audi A3 is the Audi Phone Box, which perfectly links cell phones of any type with the vehicle. Its key component is a universal planar antenna, which is integrated in the center armrest’s phone storage tray.
The telephone utilizes near-field coupling to communicate with the flat planar antenna, which routes signals via an amplifier to the vehicle antenna. The power supply for the cell phone runs via a USB port in the Audi Phone Box. For the medium term, Audi is working on a solution for contactless charging of cell phones.
The equipment, data, and prices specified in this document refer to the model range offered in Germany. Subject to change without notice; errors and omissions excepted.