NOVI, MI – Sure, the Porsche 918 Spyder looks exotic and sexy, is a showpiece for its mammoth application of structural and cosmetic carbon fiber and has a plug-in drivetrain that can run solely on electricity and generate up to 887 horsepower.
Oh, and this particular model stickers at $1,001,000, but prices start at $845,000.
But don’t overlook the advanced telematics system that puts information, audio, climate and communication functions within easy reach of the driver on an angled touchscreen made of Corning Gorilla Glass that seems to run the length of a ski slope.
The brains behind this new approach to infotainment, Stuttgart-based supplier S1nn (pronounced “Sin”), will display the system, as well as the car, at this week’s Telematics Detroit conference here at the Suburban Collection Showplace.
S1nn executives describe the car’s infotainment system as a prototype that was designed with HTML5, making it the world’s first web-based device of its kind, one that is flexible and easily upgradable like a smartphone, via the Internet. The company boasts the system should never be out of date.
The driver interacts with two screens, an upper static one that is vertical, works great for navigation and appears concave, and a flat lower dynamic display that allows icons to be arranged and customized according to personal preference.
On the audio side, the driver can search a large media database for a variety of music sources, many of them cloud-based.
A massive carbon-fiber rear spoiler also can be raised (for greater stability and downforce) and lowered for better aerodynamics with the central touchscreen.
Privately owned S1nn was founded in 2004 to develop high-quality audio systems and now is the sole supplier for Tesla Model S sound systems.
S1nn since has moved on to become a leader in the networking of automotive infotainment systems that can integrate consumer electronics.
The company has sold Volkswagen 3 million of these electronic control units enabling connections for USB jacks, Bluetooth and WiFi.
S1nn remains relatively small, with little industry visibility, but wants to change that at this year’s Telematics Detroit conference.
HTML5 Sped Development
In the case of the 918 Spyder, S1nn is a Tier 2 supplier in delivering the electronic brainpower enabling Preh’s human-machine interface, all developed in tandem with Porsche.
“We wrote the software,” says Michael Mann, S1nn’s Michigan-based senior director-business development. “We give the HMI the look and feel. We make it look good.”
Porsche directed S1nn in determining how the display screen should appear – what colors and fonts to use, for instance.
Using HTML5 allowed S1nn to shave months off development time.
“With old technology and the old ways of doing an HMI, it would take six to 12 months to reskin a whole HMI,” Mann tells WardsAuto.
“We can change colors, font sizes, the look and feel, and customize (the design) to whatever an individual automaker wants. In this realm, we can change an HMI with the flip of a switch. We’ve reskinned, changed an HMI to a generic one in two weeks’ time.”
Porsche awarded S1nn the contract in 2011, and the supplier finished the project in 20 months, says Philipp Popov, managing director for S1nn.
S1nn’s mission was not only to bake in flexibility on the product-development front but also on the consumer side, so drivers readily can reconfigure “widgets” on the display screens to avoid distraction.
Voice activation is possible, but Porsche opted against it for the 918 Spyder because the carbon-fiber top is easily removed, contributing to cabin noise, says Popov.
Plus, the sonic exhaust note when the engine is running could make it difficult for the vehicle to process driver commands.
Trent Warnke, eMobility project manager for Porsche Cars North America, finds the telematics system easy to use.
“When you get in a car, the HMI experience is whatever the automaker decided it would be for you,” Warnke says. “This is the first car really where you can decide how you want that experience to be. You can decide what you want on that main screen all the time – your girlfriend’s contact information, the navigation system, the radio station.”
Among those “widgets” the driver can arrange with swiping gestures are stock listings, weather reports, text messages and the changing power distribution within the drivetrain.
The company employs 110 people, mostly in Germany, and maintains an office with eight internal employees and seven contractors in San Diego.
Within the next two years, S1nn will deliver infotainment systems for two new models. “And we are bidding on programs now for 2017-2018,” Popov says.
Although the 918 Spyder carries a hefty price tag, Popov says S1nn infotainment technology can be applied easily to high-volume vehicles without a significant cost premium.