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Your car is about to go open source

Lucas Mearian | Oct. 10, 2013
Automakers want to standardise on a Linux-based OS that would make vehicle infotainment systems act more like smartphones

"In the past, we've had generations of infotainment systems where we buy a piece of hardware and some proprietary software from a tier 1 supplier to the auto industry. Then, two to three years later, we go and buy another black box from a different supplier. And you're effectively wasting those efforts," said Matt Jones, a senior technical specialist for infotainment systems at Jaguar Land Rover.

By adopting a Linux-based platform that's evolutionary, Jaguar Land Rover could continually add new features to its system instead of going back and reinventing and retesting the features drivers have come to expect.

For example, it's not unusual to have a dozen developers working on a Bluetooth interface for an IVI. By standardizing on just one, any future upgrades would roll out industrywide. So an open-source operating system would allow an IVI to evolve over time instead of being replaced when new car models are introduced, according to Jones.

"We're focusing on the elements of the IVI system that the customers don't care about as long as it works," Jones said. "It doesn't enable the radio to interface to the user. It just enables everything else to happen."

Jaguar Land Rover is a member of GENIVI, a nonprofit auto industry alliance committed to driving the broad adoption of an open-source IVI development platform. This week, representatives of the high-end automaker were among 180 GENIVI members who met in San Diego to discuss ways to foster broader adoption of an open-source platform. GENIVI is looking to align platform requirements, deliver reference implementations and offer certification programs to automakers.

Later this month, the Linux Foundation will hold its third annual Automotive Linux Summit in Edinburgh to discuss industry development efforts.

Carmakers today have to maintain their proprietary operating systems, which they buy from outside software providers. And that leaves them at the mercy of their vendors. For example, Microsoft supplies Ford's MySync system, so Ford would be forced to find another supplier if Microsoft decided to abandon the automotive market.

With Linux, the auto industry has a full community of open-source developers supporting and updating the software.

In 2012, the Linux Foundation launched the Tizen Project, a reference architecture and software development kit (SDK) for a Linux-based IVI. Tizen's SDK allows developers to use HTML5 to write applications for an IVI.

For example, Reaktor, a software services and consulting company headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, interfaces for existing popular mobile applications for the Tizen open source IVI; To date, Reaktor has created a user interface for the music streaming service Spotify and for the location-based social networking service Four Square.

"One shouldn't have to re-implement [a mobile app] for the infotainment system every time a new one is created. We'd like to be able to use an existing application on the phone and access it through the user interface," said Konsta Hansson, general manager at Reaktor.


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