At the 2014 Paris Motor Show this week, Honda and Nvidia come together to announce that the automaker’s new industry-first Android-based Honda Connect infotainment system would be powered by the Tegra 3 system-on-a-chip. While Honda is not actually the first automaker to announce an infotainment system that runs on Android, they should be the first company to actually bring such a system to market.
At the Geneva Motor Show back in March 2011, Saab showed off a concept car called the Phoenix with an Android-based system dubbed iQon.Unfortunately for Saab fans that was followed soon after by another period of insolvency and the car and iQon were never seen again.
Honda on the other hand doesn’t appear likely to go away anytime soon, so its new Connect system should arrive in early 2015 on updated European versions of the Civic, Civic Tourer and CR-V. There’s no word yet on when or if the new system will come to North American models.
“Nvidia has been providing processors for automotive applications for 10 years now and Honda is the 19th automotive brand to adopt our automotive-grade chips,” said Danny Shapiro, senior director, automotive at Nvidia. “The Tegra 3 SoC used by Honda is based on the same architecture previously used on smartphones and tablets but optimized for the automotive environment including temperature and shock resistance.”
Among the first applications for the Tegra 3 were the original 2012 Google Nexus 7 and the Tesla Model S which uses two of Nvidia’s chips, one for the massive 17-inch center console display and a second for the instrument cluster. Other Nvidia automotive customers include Audi and BMW.
Nvidia’s powerful graphics chips have been popular with video gamers for two decades and automakers are increasingly dependent on that kind of power for the complex entertainment interfaces and re-configurable instrument clusters.
Development of Honda Connect began well before the January 2014 announcement of the Open Automotive Alliance and Android Auto. Because of the testing and safety requirements in the auto industry, lead times to validate software for something like an infotainment system are much longer than in the phone business which is why the new Honda system is built on top of Android 4.0.4 which was initially released way back in October 2011 with the dessert code-name Ice Cream Sandwich. Honda added a custom interface to its Android implementation with a grid of six large buttons, similar to numerous other infotainment systems.
Honda Connect uses a seven-inch capacitive touchscreen to show off the navigation, radio, rear camera and other vehicle data. The system will include access to the Honda App Center for access to download compatible apps for use in the vehicle. These will presumably be conventional Android apps that have been vetted by Honda to ensure they are suitable for use on the go without distracting the driver.
The system comes pre-installed with the Aha Radio app for playing a variety of media and also includes support for MirrorLink on compatible phones to push the phone display to the vehicle.
Honda has not yet replied to inquiries for more information about the Connect system. Many of the automaker’s North American vehicles already support Apple’s SIRI eyes-free and Honda has announced plans to support both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s unknown at this time if the Android-powered head unit will include support for the two newer smartphone app conduits or if drivers will be restricted to apps from the App Center. Nvidia spokesman Alan Hall did say that the Android system is only for the European market at this time.
Click here for the Nvidia press release NVIDIA Honda PR 2014_FINAL and here for the Honda Europe release