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Low-cost, future proof IVI demo runs on Raspberry Pi

May 2, 2013 — by Eric Brown 6,308 views

Abalta Technologies announced an in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) solution that inexpensively mirrors browser content from smartphones or tablets to Linux-enabled “head” units. The company’s Weblink IVI demo consists of a client app running on a Raspberry Pi-based simulated head unit acting as a remote touchscreen for WiFi- or USB-connected smartphones running a companion server app.

Abalta says its Weblink client/server technology can work with any touchscreen or button-controlled IVI display and can be integrated with existing IVI equipment. The Weblink IVI demo setup runs a Linux Weblink client application on a $25 Raspberry Pi Model A single-board computer (SBC).

Abalta’s Raspberry Pi-based Weblink demonstration
(click image to enlarge)

As shown in the diagram below, the Weblink client application on the Raspberry Pi communicates via WiFi, USB cable, or if need be, Bluetooth with a companion Weblink server app running on an Android or iOS smartphone. The client app mirrors selected HTML5-compatible browser content on the IVI head unit’s screen, and input via touchscreen, buttons, steering wheel, or any other method supported by the IVI system is reflected back to the smartphone’s browser.


Abalta’s Weblink architecture
(click image to enlarge)

Weblink demo homescreen


Countering IVI device obsolescence

The idea behind Weblink, as well as similar technologies such as MirrorLink and Livio Connect API, is to reduce the cost of car computers while leveraging the power of smartphones and tablets. Abalta also aims to address the issue of IVI obsolescence. Since automobiles typically last 10 years or more — several eons in tech time — any system installed at purchase will quickly show its age.

To address obsolescence, many car companies are turning away from baked-in proprietary systems to standardized, modular open source solutions, such as devices based on the Linux-oriented Genivi Alliance spec. The goal with such open standards is that apps can be written for a common platform that will work on all the devices, and firmware can be regularly updated via OTA. In addition, components such as processors, SBCs, or wireless boards can be more easily and affordably upgraded.

That’s still pricier than simply buying a new smartphone or tablet every few years and slapping it onto the dash with some Velcro. After all, you’re going to buy a new smartphone anyway. More to the point, the number of apps optimized for any given IVI system won’t likely be as broad as Android and iOS.

The problem is that your smartphone or tablet is not optimized for use in a car, making it unsafe for drivers to interact. In fact, states and cities are increasingly banning the use of mobile devices while driving. In addition, unlike smartphones, IVI systems often integrate telemetry information from the car or control back-seat IVI satellite displays.

Abalta’s solution with Weblink is to use a cheap Linux computer — a point driven home by the company’s Raspberry Pi-based demo — as a “thin client” terminal. From the smartphone, any app that uses an HTML5 browser can be rendered on the Pi, automatically fitting the display to the head unit’s screen “with no image distortions or stretching,” claims Abalta. CSS can be used by vendors who want to apply custom skins to the apps, says Abalta. Currently, Abalta offers WebNav for navigation, Slacker for streaming music, Wcities for events, and Parkopedia for parking assistance.

Weblink is primarily aimed at more affordable cars in which a $1,000 IVI add-on is beyond the means of most buyers. No OEM pricing was available, but considering the $25 Pi cost, it seems feasible that IVI systems costing as little as $200-$300 might be possible.

The new Model A version of the Pi uses the same 700MHz ARM11 Broadcom processor as the original B model, but cuts RAM in half to 256MB. It also sacrifices the Ethernet port, as well as one of the two USB ports. It retains the HDMI, RCA, and audio ports, as well as the SD card, LEDs, GPIO, and WiFi. The 3.37 x 2.125-inch (85.6 x 54mm) device weighs just 30 grams, and typically consumes less than 2 Watts. Although the Pi board is open source, Abalta’s Linux-based Weblink technology is not.

Weblink demonstration video

The YouTube video below, made by Abalta, demonstrates the company’s Weblink IVI technology.


Weblink appears to be available to OEMs now. More information may be found at Abalta’s Weblink product page. Licensing details or pricing were not disclosed.

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