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Can automotive survive without open source?

Jan 12, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

The struggling automotive industry needs to embrace open software platforms if it wants to cash in on the growing automotive telematics and infotainment business, says an ABI Research white paper. Partnerships with Linux technology companies are cited by ABI as potential avenues for success.

(Click for larger view of Linux-ready Garmin Nuvi 880)

In addition to its other woes, the automotive industry is struggling to shorten its design and replacement cycles for telematics, navigation, and infotainment devices, in order to compete with third-party consumer electronics and wireless products, says ABI. Without affordable, up-to-date, in-car electronics, drivers are increasingly opting for mobile consumer devices such as cellphone-based software applications, or personal navigation devices (PNDs) like the Linux-based Garmin 880, pictured above.

Providing telematics systems with open APIs and physical interfaces that can link up with third-party devices is the only way for automakers to win a sizable share of the infotainment market, says ABI. According to the white paper, this “hybrid” approach to the automotive telematics business accepts the reality of the popularity of mobile devices, while focusing on the strengths of built-in telematics. Only built-in automotive systems can provide access to critical safety and diagnostic functions, as well as provide higher quality infotainment via large displays, speakers, and in some cases input technology such as speech recognition, ABI suggests. Car companies will still need to grow more nimble to succeed at this strategy, but by endorsing open platforms, their job will be easier, and they won't need to match the lightning pace of the CE world, suggests the paper.

Open source, or at least open-API software, is essential to making this vision happen, says ABI. “Open software will allow OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to design platforms which can be easily customized and updated, improving performance and extending product life,” stated ABI research director Dominique Bonte.

Open source sesame

ABI points to successful partnerships between carmakers and software companies, such as Microsoft's Windows Automotive and Microsoft Auto open development platforms being used by Fiat for its Blue&Me platform and Ford for its Ford Sync telematics platform. Yet fully open-source software is needed “to fully unlock the potential and garner the support of third-party software developers,” states the paper. This is especially so as the pressure is on to reduce development costs, ABI suggests.

TomTom 300/700

The paper notes that embedded automotive software market leader QNX has been successful in partially open sourcing its Neutrino real-time operating system (RTOS) in order to unlock development resources. However, much more seems to be happening with Linux.

The white paper notes that BMW is developing a Linux-based open-source platform for vehicle electronics in cooperation with Intel and Wind River, which has dubbed the platform Wind River Linux Platform for Infotainment. ABI also refers to recent partnerships between automotive and Tier 1 electronic firms with manufacturers of Linux-ready PNDs, with TomTom and Renault linking up in one partnership, and Garmin and Panasonic in another.

The partners are working to find ways to integrate their systems so PND software can be dispayed on automotive screens and feed into automotive telematics systems. Meanwhile, others (such as DrewTech) are working to make car performance and status data available to mobile devices via the OBD-II port, says the company, thereby enabling applications that provide statistics on fuel consumption, vehicle speed, and other parameters.


The ABI Research white paper, “Is Open Software the Solution for the Automotive Industry?”, should be available for free download (registration required) here.

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