Having entertainment and information at our fingertips has driven the consumer and automotive electronics industry to new heights. Mobile products such as MP3 players, smart phones, PDAs, handheld GPS systems and ultra-portable computers are now woven into the fabric of our every-day lives, creating a 24/7 consumer demand for digital content.
This penchant for taking all of our information and entertainment with us offers a natural extension to our favorite home-away-from-homethe car. Road warriors also want easy-to-use devices that enable automotive infotainment where they spend a significant amount of time.
The automotive industry realizes the demand for digital programming brings value and differentiation to their offerings. Critical to the success of the car as a digital hub is the ability to store large volumes of video, music, gaming, and information content as digital data. Thanks to hard disk drive (HDD) storage, the transformation to digital infotainment systems capable of delivering these offerings has begun.
Beginning in model year 2005, the first OEM installed digital solutions based on HDD technology began shipping in Japan. These units featured navigation as the primary application, with MP3 and other functionality secondary. In the United States and Europe, model year 2007 will see the first solid wave of automobiles featuring OEM-installed, HDD-based digital equipment including entertainment and navigation.
The digital experience requires robust data storage
To create a truly valuable system capable of simultaneously running multiple formats of digital information and entertainment programming in a car, automotive OEMs and head-unit manufacturers need robust storage to house high-capacity digital content and run sophisticated operating systems. Among the myriad storage solutions, HDDs are well positioned to make the digital experience in the car a reality.
With HDD technology, automobile manufacturers get a combination of high-capacity, temperature and vibration specifications, and efficient content-writing and retrieval capabilities. With HDD technology, infotainment systems can house and run multiple offerings such as navigation, video, and music simultaneously.
Adapting HDD for the road
According to market research firm IDC, as automotive manufacturers, car dealers, and aftermarket suppliers continuously introduce new digital devices that enhance the driver and passenger experience, the number of HDDs consumed for automotive applications will grow from 2.4 million in 2005 to 8.5 million in 2009.
These HDDs are not traditional PC drives. A new generation of automotive-class HDDs has been designed specifically with the over-the-road environment in mind. Able to withstand the rigors of driving, automotive-class HDDs also feature wide operating-temperature ranges, enabling digital infotainment to travel from the desert to the mountains. In addition, HDDs must control humidity within the drive, as well as withstand exposure to constant vibration and shock.
For example, Toshiba's 30 GB 2.5-inch automotive HDDs (fourth-generation drives currently shipping to OEMs) support temperature ranges from -16 to 70C (MK3029GACE), and -20 to 85C (MK3029GAC). Measuring 70 mm wide, 100 mm deep, and 9.5mm high, these HDDs weigh in at 96 grams (3.4 oz) and can withstand shocks of 200g while operating and non-operational shocks of 800g.
Storage capacity is Job 1
High-capacity storage is key to delivering such expanded digital experience in a car. As a result, the storage industry has taken significant steps in removing capacity limits inherent in current HDD recording technology. First-generation digital systems used 30 GB of storage to meet the capacity draw of applications such as mapping, MP3 storage, and basic video playback. With mapping and navigation programs consuming approximately 15 GB, digital automobile systems will require even greater storage capacity to incorporate additional features.
This year, HDD manufacturers introduced a breakthrough recording technology that boosts storage capacity for automotive applications. Known as perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR), this technology enables HDDs to overcome the inherent limits to increasing capacity under the current longitudinal technology recording platform.
Conventional longitudinal recording stores data on a magnetic disk as microscopic magnetic bits aligned in-plane with the recording medium surface. Although advances in magnetic coatings continue to improve data recording densities on the HDD, the magnetic bits repulse each other when the densities become too extreme. Squeezing more bits onto a disk will eventually result in crowding that degrades recorded bit quality. As such, HDD manufacturers face fast-approaching limits on storage capacities.
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By standing the magnetic bits on end, perpendicular recording reinforces magnetic coupling between neighboring bits, achieving higher and more stable recording densities and improved storage capacity.
PMR has the potential to increase HDD storage capacity up to 10 times greater than current capacity limits. This capability is extremely important to development of automotive-class HDDs, because drive manufacturers achieve the temperature specifications demanded by the automotive industry by relaxing the areal density in a traditional HDD. Without PMR, increases in capacity to accommodate future expansion of multimedia applications in the car would not be possible.
Realization of the 'digital car'
Toshiba Storage Device Division has worked with automotive manufacturers for more than eight years to develop digital infotainment systems and design automotive-grade HDDs to fit these applications.
To date, Toshiba has shipped more than two million units to automotive and head-unit manufacturers for OEM and aftermarket products, primarily to Japanese automobile manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers in other regions. Shipments to U.S. and European car manufacturers will ramp in the coming year as the first designed-in systems hit the market in late 2006.
The automobile industry has only just begun to discover the value that high-storage-capacity entertainment and information systems will deliver to consumers. Using HDD technology, automotive OEMs can create exciting applications that differentiate car models and keep pace with consumer demand for digital programming.
Today, navigation, MP3 playback, gaming, and DVD video are the target applications. In the future, robust storage content will enable more elaborate solutions like time-shifted television or satellite radio content, first-run movies, and other downloadable entertainment that can be stored in the car.
Amy Dalphy is product market manager at Toshiba Storage Device Division. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.