A Car with a Cockpit: How Digital Cockpit Solutions are Making This a Reality

A Car with a Cockpit: How Digital Cockpit Solutions are Making This a Reality

The Prelude:

“Personalization”, “Connectivity”, and “Safety” – Automotive Industry has been at the cross-roads of these three paths, courtesy Internet of Things and In-Vehicle Mobility.

To set things in perspective, let’s establish the fact that all the innovations in Automotive are being driven by the following three innovation commandments:

  • Thy customers shall always be delivered with experience, which is ‘personalized’ based on the preferences of driver and passengers alike.
  • Thou shall deliver solutions, that ensure seamless ‘connectivity’ between vehicle, home, and devices.
  • Safety’ First; always remember to mitigate driver distraction. Implement processes and features that ensure fail-Safe operations and necessary Driver Assistance, in case of emergency.

Digital Cockpit Solutions

A Digital Cockpit solution is the latest in Automotive Tech, which has been fueled by the aspirations defined by these innovation commandments.

Digital Cockpits: A Revolution, Powered by IoT and Automotive Electronics

Digital Cockpit Solutions

The Digital Cockpit Solutions: Revolutionizing the Car Cockpit
First things first, let’s understand What is a Digital Cockpit?

A Digital Cockpit solution is designed to offer a Unified Digital Experience, by breaking the silos between the various in-vehicle interfaces.

Hence, a Digital Cockpit solution is the coming together of interfaces like instrument cluster, Heads-up Display (HUD), HVAC and Infotainment systems.

Typical Digital Cockpit

Feature List supported by a Typical Digital Cockpit Solutions
Why the need for a Unified Digital Cockpit Solution?

  • ECU (Electronic Control Unit) Consolidation: When in silos, the instrument cluster, infotainment system, HVAC system are being powered by Multiple Control Units, different operating systems and software modules.Cometh Digital Cockpit Solution, cometh the Automotive ECU consolidation. With Digital Cockpit, all these interfaces can be powered by using a common micro-controller platform/ Single on Chip Platforms.

    This reduces the complexity related to automotive electronics.

  • A Digital Cockpit solution, consisting of Digital Interfaces allows OEMs’ to overcome the limitations of Analog Instrument Cluster and other interfaces.With Digital HMI, automotive OEMs’ and Suppliers gain the liberty to design interfaces which deliver more relevant representation of real-time data. Digital Interfaces also extend the scope to support various safety-critical features.

Understanding the Technology Stack, that Powers a Digital Cockpit solution

  1. The Hardware Module:
    While the hardware design of Digital cockpit solution can vary with the corresponding OEM and service provider, we can still look at the generic hardware architecture of a Digital cockpit solution:

    • Application Processors: The modern digital cockpit system has intense processing requirements to power myriads of powerful functionalities.For example, managing multiple audio and video input/output; managing the ADAS and driver monitoring features, powering speech and image recognition capabilities, supporting real-time navigation & more.
      • This calls for highly powerful and flexible application processors. OEMs usually look for high performance Application processors that are optimized for RTOS and virtualization. They also need to demonstrate efficient Signal, image and vision processing capabilities.
      • Another major aspect to look for while choosing Digital Cockpit Processor is : how well it can balance the safety critical requirements along with processing requirements. This is essential especially for performing time and safety critical operations like auto braking to avoid a collision etc.
      • Jacinto DRAx automotive processors , (A57, A35) , Cortex-A76 -Arm processors are some of the leading type of Digital Cockpit processors in use today. Many OEMs are going the multi-core processor way to fulfill the intense processing and safety requirements of a Digital Cockpit .
    • System On Chips: Many modern digital cockpit solutions are based on System on Chip ( SOCs) that can three individual boards to manage the infotainment systems, the instrument clusters, and the heads-Up displays. This approach helps them save considerable on cost and development cycles.The typical SoC used for Digital Cockpit solution includes: multimedia accelerator, memory, Graphical Processing Unit , automotive peripherals, connectivity interfaces , digital signal processor.

      TI’s new and powerful Jacinto DRAx SoC that consolidates function from several ECUs, would be a befitting example here.

  2. The Communication Interfaces:The modern day vehicle is a complex network of interconnected subsystem that need to constantly communicate for various applications to execute efficiently.

    As automotive applications see high level advancements today, the role of communication interfaces in enabling seamless transmission of data, within and outside the vehicle, cannot be emphasized enough. From controlling the infotainment display to exchanging vehicle data securely over cloud, to adjusting HVAC system – we need specific Communication interfaces to manage various functions within a car.

    Let us take a quick look at some main types of communication interfaces required within an automotive cockpit system:

    Communication Mode Functions Managed Features
    CAN Vehicle Connectivity and Vehicle Diagnostics
    • Used by controllers, processors, sensors, engine control unit etc to communicate via specific messages
    • Operates at speeds ≥1 Mbps
    Automotive Ethernet/ DoIP Vehicle Connectivity, In-vehicle infotainment systems,
    • Ethernet is ideally used for midbandwidth transmission of high-speed data.
    • Example: in applications such as navigation systems and control, rear camera, infotainment etc.
    • Speed: 100 Mb/s
    Audio and Video Bridge( AVB) For live audio and video  streaming
    • Ideal for streaming timely and continuous audio/video (A/V) content especially for bandwidth intensive applications without lags or buffering.
    Supporting User Experience functions.
    • Seamlessly connect portable devices such as smartphones with car in energy efficient way
    • Replaces the need for physical cables
    • Bidirectional communications between car and the devices
    Managing data communications with the cloud server for FOTA updates, telematics etc.
    • For embedded connectivity and  faster transmission of data
    • Have been used for sending alerts like automatic crash and door unlocking notification


  1. The Software Module:
    • Operating System: A Suitable set of RTOS and Non-RTOS,- that can manage different functionalities , completely in isolation with each other, while sharing the hardware resources. This process is facilitated by means of virtualization, which has been explained in the subsequent section.For example, all the time critical functionalities related to Instrument Cluster,  Collision warning, HVAC, Telematics can be managed by an RTOS like QNX, Integrity.

      Meanwhile, functions which are less time critical such as infotainment, Driven Monitoring system can be managed by a Non-RTOS such as Linux, Windows. Such an OS isolation offers great benefits in terms of simpler system design, cost savings due to resource sharing, etc.

    • Middleware: This layer offers support for features like multimedia, voice assistance, integration with smartphone (Apple CarPlay, Android Auto,) Bluetooth, UI framework, web browser etc.
    • Virtualization: Virtualization is the key mechanism that enables a digital cockpit solution to manage a plethora of functions using shared hardware resources and peripherals. Under this, multiple Operating systems, including RTOS & Non-RTOS can be run on a common hardware platform.This not only makes it easy to develop and manage the components but also helps in optimizing the cost and enhancing the performance of the cockpit systems.

    Typically, the modern day providers of digital cockpit solution follow one of the two approaches for virtualization:

    1. The Hypervisor Approach: A hypervisor is a thin layer that operates between the operating systems and the hardware.A hypervisor software helps the multiple OS environments managing the cluster, infotainment, HUDs and other digital systems to function as isolated systems. Such an isolation is useful especially if one of the application crashes; rest of the applications can still function normally without getting affected.

      Virtualization using Hypervisor

      Virtualization using Hypervisor
    2. Virtualization using Multiple Core Application Processors: Instead of a dedicated platform like hypervisor, this approach makes use of multiple core application processors for OS isolation and partitioning of resources. Multicore OS’s allow for virtualization by mapping different applications to the different core in the multicore.

Challenges in Designing Digital Cockpit:

At present, the stakeholders of the automotive industry are faced with a host of technical and business challenges associated with designing a robust and secure a digital cockpit solution. Let us have a quick glance at some critical challenges:

  • Hardware & Software design, as per the ISO 26262 FuSA guidelines:

Adhering to the Functional Safety (FuSa) guidelines, as per the ISO 26262 Standard, is very critical for any automotive application development project.

Any hardware or software component that goes into an automotive application development should have an ASIL defined for itself based on its safety-criticality.

Also Read our blog: Understanding How ISO 26262 ASIL is Determined for Automotive Applications

In modern automotive applications like Digital cockpit, a single ECU handles multiple functions. In such a scenario, there are possibilities of software and hardware components with different safety criticality (ASIL ratings) , to coexist. These components of varying ASIL ratings may interfere  with each other leading to safety violations.

This is particularly challenging when the components with differing ASIL ratings are sharing a common CPU and memory resources etc.

If these potential challenges are not properly addressed at the design stage, it will lead to safety critical situations.

  • Cost Optimizations ( Licensing cost, Per Unit Cost, development cost):

Development of digital cockpit solution using the Hypervisor approach, for OS virtualization is still a costly proposition.

The cost factors associated with Hypervisor involves – virtualization licenses, cost required for implementation of advanced features such as V2X; costs based on the number of cores and type of OS.

One alternate approach to optimize cost could be to use any of the free RTOS’. But one needs to ensure its reliability in terms of performance, speed of execution, and robustness.

A sneak peek into the Digital Cockpit solutions available in the market:

  • Digital Cockpit 2019, by Samsung and Harman:

    At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)  2019, Samsung and Harman together presented their flagship Digital Cockpit 2019 solution .

    An upgraded version of Digital cockpit released last year, Digital Cockpit 2019 is said to offer “a seamless link between vehicle, devices, and home”.

    Feature Highlights:

    • This solution has 6 Digital Displays, including an Independent Passenger Display & Two Rear Seat Displays, for personalized infotainment experience.
    • In-built Occupant Monitoring System that facilitates automatic adjustments of seat position, based on the personal settings of the driver (Driver Monitoring System ) and passengers
    • Integrated with Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant, for voice assisted control of in-car functions like adjusting the ambient lighting.
    • Unified control of car, and home devices: One of the most attractive feature of the Digital Cockpit 2019 is the fact that it allows the users to manage IoT devices enables devices of home and office. This is powered by the integration of SmartThings ( along with Bixby )
    • The Mirror Replacement Vision System offers three-split-view, while also sending alerts if any moving object is detected to be too close to the vehicle.
  • Volkswagen Digital Cockpit:
    Volkswagen_logoVW’s Digital Cockpit solution consists of customizable and high-resolution digital screens.

    Currently available on many new Volkswagen models, these digital screens display information such as speed, fuel-levels, and  various apps. As a user, you can customize the settings to view real-time maps, add music playlist or access phone calls.

    Feature Highlights:

      The digital displays that can be accessed via the steering wheel-mounted controls, consist of following features:
  • * Speedometer          * Driving range       * Tachometer           * Altimeter

    * Fuel economy        * Compass              * Navigation             * Safety features

    Advantages :

    • The digital display, placed in front of the steering wheel, offers a seamless view of information to the driver in a way that mitigates any distraction.
    • The drivers can use the digital cockpit solution to monitor safety systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control while also accessing other critical vehicle and driving information.
  • Visteon’s next-generation Digital Cockpit:
    Visteon Visteon made headlines with the launch of its digital cockpit solution touted as the “Smart, Learning Digital Cockpit of the Future“ at CES 2019.

    Feature Highlights:

    • ECU Consolidation: Integration of various functions associated with the instrument cluster, infotainment and others into a single ECU
    • Free-form displays: Visteon’s Digital Cockpit comes with a curved , non-rectangular displays. These displays based on based on LED and OLED technologies and offer a smooth viewing experience minus the conventional flat & rectangular design
    • Integrated with Machine Learning based driver monitoring system for an interactive and personalized in-car experience.
    • Visteon uses SmartCore based domain controller to implement Android based infotainment and driver information applications.
    • In-vehicle “say ‘n serve” smart assistant that uses Machine Learning for voice recognition.

These are just a few mentions of the leading Digital Cockpit solutions that have already made waves in the automotive market.

The market is abuzz with newer versions of the Digital Cockpit Solutions, from the big wigs of the automotive Industry. But keeping in mind the length of the article, we are reserving the discussion for our future blogposts.


Happy to Help!