Supplier seeks solution to dated computer chips

David Sedgwick is a Senior Writer for Automotive NewsDavid Sedgwick is a Senior Writer for Automotive News
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For automakers, one of the biggest headaches posed by infotainment systems is instant obsolescence.

The auto industry, with its stately three- to five-year product cycles, simply can't keep up with the shootout-at-the-O.K.-Corral product cycles of smartphone makers. New applications produced for smartphones often aren't compatible with the dated software and hardware found in autos.

But this is starting to change. Early this year, Nvidia Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., introduced Tegra 3, a processor that combines the graphics processing unit, central processing unit and memory required for an infotainment system.

The other day, Nvidia Marketing Director Daniel Shapiro told me how the company's Tegra 3 would support 3-D graphics for navigation maps.

Which is fine, but the real show-stopper is this: Nvidia calls Tegra 3 "a system on a chip" because automakers can easily swap it out for an updated version.

That allows automakers to upgrade their hardware roughly a year after new technology appears in smartphones. That will reduce -- but not eliminate -- the lag time between a new smartphone feature and its adoption for automotive infotainment.

The Tegra 3 will appear first in the Tesla Model S, then in the Audi A3 and the Volkswagen Golf late this year or early next year.

Perhaps motorists won't grow old and die waiting for the latest whiz-bang features found on an Android or iPhone.

You can reach David Sedgwick at dsedgwick@crain.com.

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