Q&A with Harman - Just Auto
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Q&A with Harman

24 Jan 2011

Since introducing the world’s first car radio in 1949, Harman and its brands have brought an increasing range of audio, infotainment and safety features to the automotive market. In this interview, Matthew Beecham talked with Harman’s UK and ROE sales director Tony Harberman about GreenEdge, its technology initiative for improving the efficiency of premium sound systems.

Since introducing the world’s first car radio in 1949, Harman and its brands have brought an increasing range of audio, infotainment and safety features to the automotive market.  In this interview, Matthew Beecham talked with Harman’s UK and ROE sales director Tony Harberman about GreenEdge, its technology initiative for improving the efficiency of premium sound systems.

More than 20 million vehicles on the road today are equipped with Harman systems for audio, navigation, infotainment and driver assistance.

Continuing on from this, Harman has launched more than a dozen major audio and infotainment platforms during the past two years, each custom designed to meet the needs of discriminating automakers and their customers including Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Land Rover, Mercedes, Porsche, Rolls Royce and more.  In anticipation of the current automotive industry trend, the firm has actively sought efficiency and weight improvements that don’t lead to compromises in performance, often outperforming legacy technologies. 

just-auto: Can you summarise what GreenEdge is about?

Tony Harberman: The goal is simple: improved sound performance with reduced power consumption “Twice the performance and half the energy” is what we have shown is possible. We’ll achieve this goal through new loudspeakers, amplifiers and new spectral and power management software technology. We started this development in 2005 and will see the first OEM application in 2011.

Is this new technology or just the use of lighter materials to raise efficiency?

No, it’s more than that. We have seven patents pending on GreenEdge technologies alone.  We’ve co-operated with our consumer and professional divisions to extract and make the most of the knowledge and thinking across the groups, an advantage we at Harman are making more and more of in the last few years. The desire to improve efficiency is not exclusive to the car.

What’s interesting about this is we commissioned thorough market research and the results were very insightful.  Seventy-one percent of respondents said green would be a strong positive influence on purchase of their next car. That’s perhaps not surprising but 48 percent expect green technologies to perform better than similar non-green products. I suppose we see some of this in efficient light bulb technologies where say, a 13Watt bulb offers the same performance as a 60Watt bulb. So when we looked at the technologies we had to find solutions that offered better performance, reducing weight would not be enough. After all, Harman, being an audio company, has always been about the performance. 
 
Can you be more specific about these technologies?

When designing a GreenEdge High Efficiency speaker, our engineers manipulate six key parameters to increase the acoustic output while minimising the input power required. Linear on axis response is no longer the most important parameter to optimise. Our significant DSP horsepower and proprietary voicing software will take care of that. For GreenEdge speakers, we also include custom designed lenses and horns to modify the directivity and further boost output.  There are three performance tiers specified for Harman’s GreenEdge High Efficiency speakers. The tiers are differentiated by audio performance and power consumption.

High Voltage Amplifiers are designed to provide the specific drive characteristics required of the chosen GreenEdge High Efficiency speakers. In every case, the output stage efficiency is increased. It may be Class AB, Class D or of a proprietary switching type utilizing custom silicon designed by Harman. We can get efficiency up to 90 percent, as opposed to the industry norms of 35-40 percent. Switching power supplies are now “smart” designs and are more energy efficient than ever before. In addition, these new design directions allow for smaller mechanical packages that generate less heat and are lower in weight than legacy designs.

To reach our goals of improved sound performance and lower power consumption from these technology breakthroughs, new software applications were written. Our Power Management software is an exciting tool for our systems engineers and is most topical for EVs and hybrid manufacturers seeking to extend range. This software application allows us to voice a system in the most energy efficient way.  To improve our sound performance, our proprietary Spectral Manager software maintains the total spectral energy (bass and treble) contained in the original music or movie material but redirects it to where it can be reproduced most efficiently and accurately.

And are you lowering component weight too?

Yes, but it goes much further. With lower current, you can reduce the wiring gauge specification.  We did benchmarking on one of our OEM systems and found we could reduce wiring mass alone by 42 percent. That also makes it easier to install in the car, saving production time etc. Since the speakers will be driven with less power and monitored in real-time by our power management software, there will be gains in reliability.  In some cases a GreenEdge component in isolation maybe heavier than an existing technology but overall there will be a reduction in weight. Benchmarking of a 12MY car has shown a system weight reduction of 27 percent. GreenEdge will not mean a compromise in performance, which is a key factor for Harman. In fact the testing to date shows we should be able to get higher performance.

Does this come at a cost?

Harman is able to provide GreenEdge audio systems to our automotive partners that offer excellent value at a price point that is appropriate when compared with the retail price of the vehicle. Our goal is to make the entertainment and environmental benefits of these exciting new technologies available to a majority of the car buying public who spend time in their vehicles and appreciate good music and movies.  It’s worth noting that our market research suggests that 43 percent of respondents are willing to pay more for the environmental benefits offered by a ‘green’ premium audio system. That’s an opportunity for the OEMs to consider carefully too.

You mentioned that you are already planning to release this technology in production cars?

Yes, the first OEM car will be on sale with GreenEdge technology in 2011. Additional systems will roll out that year as well. We have been demonstrating this alongside our HALOsonic (sound synthesis and active noise cancellation) demonstration vehicles in the US, Europe, Japan and China. The demo car explains a lot about Harman’s expansion beyond infotainment products to acoustics, safety systems, NVH refinement and power management. We like to think that noise is bad and sound is good.  It’s becoming really an important topic for the OEMs, not only as way of making a car feel more premium but also to give it a brand identity, a signature. This is particularly true with EVs where the lack of sound is an opportunity to create a brand sound but it’s also a safety issue. Data suggests that you are twice as likely to be knocked down by a hybrid or EV as a conventional petrol or diesel car.  Legislation may shape what the sound is but the sound in the car offers more scope for individuality and we can help the OEMs with this too. Our demo car in Europe  has been extremely popular with the product planners and is exposing them to GreenEdge too.