Harman is using the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to launch its latest technologies to the consumer and automotive sectors. Matthew Beecham talked with Harman’s executive vice president and president of Infotainment Division, Sachin Lawande about the company’s innovations on display.

I guess that CES is the key show for Harman and a place to present automotive technologies? Why not at Detroit?

CES has started to attract a lot of interest of automotive industry with many OEMs and suppliers participating in the show. It is a clear sign that automotive technologies have become part of mainstream technology landscape. I believe that nine carmakers including Audi, BMW, Kia, Mercedes and Toyota are also exhibiting at this event. We have engineering teams visiting our booth from the leading global automotive OEMs at this show. Also, unlike many companies operating in this sector, we are involved in consumer lifestyle, professional audio and automotive ‘entertainment’ electronics products which will also be displayed at our booth to showcase the whole portfolio of Harman. This makes CES a unique opportunity for Harman to reach a broad range of customers across all its market segments

What is the theme for Harman at CES?

We are addressing the key trends with next generation infotainment; that is Connectivity, Security and Safety. We are launching our new next-generation scalable infotainment platform at CES, which offers a rich connected experience whilst maintaining the highest levels of safety & security.

Today’s cars get more and more connected, but infotainment systems seem to keep static and not as customisable as smartphones and tablets. Is this an issue?

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Yes, you are right and we also see this as a critical issue that needs to be addressed with next-generation infotainment systems. Smartphones and tablets have created the expectation that computing devices remain relevant after initial purchase through apps and system software that can be downloaded into the device. To keep up with consumers’ expectations the infotainment system has to evolve into an application platform that can offer third party developers to write apps that can then be downloaded from app stores hosted by OEMs.

So how does the Harman Platform address this issue of downloadable apps?

Our next-generation infotainment platform will be the first to introduce an automotive grade app environment in infotainment. It is important to understand that automotive requirements are different from that of personal computing devices; the in-vehicle infotainment system must protect and isolate the vehicle functions from being impacted by the downloaded apps. The new infotainment system from Harman is a comprehensive solution that addresses all critical issues, to offer a robust platform that achieves this goal.

Bringing apps into cars poses cyber security risks. What are you doing to combat that?

With increased connectivity, infotainment systems require a much higher level of protection than ever before. As the infotainment system is connected to critical vehicle bus systems such as CAN and MOST, it is even more of a sensitive issue than for personal computing devices. The new infotainment system architecture from Harman combines state-of-the-art network security technologies – such as secure boot, data encryption, and network security protocols – together with innovative multi-domain architecture leveraging multi-core CPUs with type one hypervisor to provide impenetrable defense against cyber attacks.

The system architecture uses type one hypervisor to implement two separate system domains that are isolated from each other. One manages critical car functions such as vehicle network communication, and the other handles infotainment applications such as navigation and Internet access. The critical vehicle functions are therefore firewalled, preventing any impact on safety-relevant features in the car, or on the car engine and control – these continue to run their own domain safely. This architecture creates a Trusted Infotainment Architecture that offers unmatched security.

Even with the increased threat of security, has the possibility of attacks from hackers impacted upon the level of connectivity you offer?

The next generation infotainment system will offer connectivity to all personal computing devices such as smartphones and tablets over Bluetooth and WiFi wireless. It also offers connectivity to the internet through either the smartphone or through telematics gateway. With the unmatched security architecture that I described earlier, we are confident that the system will be secure and hack-proof against any threat.

The thought of bringing more data into the car raises the question of driver distraction. Have you addressed this, too?

Absolutely. We believe we have done something that the industry has never been able to do before, by offering the first fully integrated safety features. By leveraging the software-based technology solution from our newly acquired partner iOnRoad, we are now among the first in the market capable of integrating key vision-based ADAS functions, such as forward collision and lane departure warnings, into the head unit. Until now, this has been performed by separate devices. There is a system complexity advantage too.

What application framework are you using and why?

HTML5 is the emerging new application framework that has the advantages of being fully open and designed from the ground up for the connected apps and devices. HTML5 is being supported by all major operating systems and offers developers the potential to rapidly develop apps that can run on across all devices. As good as HTML5 is, it is still necessary to customise it for automotive use to ensure robustness and reliability. Harman is investing in this technology and will use HTML5 as the application framework for our next generation infotainment systems.

Your next-generation platform appears to be a “clean sheet” development. Does this mean that costs are going to be higher?

Any new infotainment system development requires significant investment due to the complexity of the technologies, rigorous testing cycles and regional market requirements. But with the future proofing architecture, we firmly believe that our next-generation infotainment platform will soon become the automotive industry’s most advanced in-vehicle infotainment platform. With legacy systems, hardly any of the software or hardware can be reused. We have moved away from this cycle to a more cost efficient approach with capacity for the future. This will bring cost benefits to the OEMs.

Aside from your new infotainment platform, what else are you launching at CES 2014?

We have a number of innovations for the automotive sector on show here. We are introducing a revolutionary and unique technology called Signal Doctor. It automatically analyses and improves audio quality from all types of compressed music files. Unlike competitor offerings, Signal Doctor does not just add equalisation, unnatural reverb or bass boost, but rather uses scientific probabilities based on the compressed content to put back what was lost. We think this is a major advance and will be in automotive products within the next 12 months. With our automotive services, we are also introducing a new suite of solutions that upgrade, connect, and improve both the infotainment and audio experience for vehicles on the road today.

The Automotive Services sounds an alternative approach? Can you give specific examples of how the Automatic Services will work?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto’s QUBE research service