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Driving Mr. Tux — Linux takes on automotive apps

Oct 18, 2004 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 2 views

Metrowerks has set out to drive Linux further into the automotive telematics market by launching what it calls “Automotive Grade Linux,” a version of the open source operating system enhanced with non-traditional features to address the specific requirements of automotive telematics. In entering the automotive telematics market, Metrowerks can expect to face stiff competition from Microsoft, which has aggressively pursued that market for several years; but Metrowerks is counting on its close relationship with parent company and automotive telematics chip leader Freescale to help its Linux-based solution succeed.

Coincident with today's announcement, Metrowerks is releasing a board support package (BSP) that includes an Automotive Grade Linux implementation for Freescale's MPC5200-based mobileGT Total5200 telematics development kit.

What is “telematics”?

Telematics is a fairly new word sometimes defined as the combination of telecommunications and computing, or, alternatively, “telemetry” (radio-based instrumentation) and “informatics” (information management using statistics and computers).

Automotive telematics, then, is the application of telematics to the automotive market. Metrowerks lists examples of automotive telematics that include:

  • Call center services such as GM OnStar
  • In-car navigation and guidance systems
  • Car/cellphone integration (for example, for hands-free operation through the radio and a dash-mounted microphone)
  • XM radio and Becker Online Pro
  • Fleet management systems such as Qualcomm Omnitracs

Linux-based automotive telematics products available today include the Volvo ITS4Mobility public transit tracking/scheduling system (shown on left), the Sony NV-XYZ 3D GPS navigation system (shown on right), and others listed in the automotive telematics section of our Linux-based “Cool Devices” Quick Reference Guide.

What automotive telematics is not

Automotive telematics does not include areas of automotive computing that involve powertrain management (such as fuel-injection microcontrollers), or what Metrowerks terms “body/safety/chassis” computing applications. These applications are typically based on proprietary process-based real-time OSes such as QNX, VxWorks, AE, LynxOS and others.

Why does the automotive telematics market matter?

New cars are increasingly loaded up with computer-based subsystems — not only in the now-traditional areas of engine control and diagnostics, but in emerging areas such as global positioning systems (GPS), Internet access, and multimedia entertainment. Given the large numbers of cars sold each year on a global basis — estimated to exceed 60 million vehicles in 2004 — these features will rapidly become key competitive differentiators, driving silicon costs down, which, in turn, will make the new capabilities increasingly ubiquitous.

Recognizing this trend, market research firm ABI, in a November, 2003 report, forecast that the global market for automotive telematics hardware and services would hit $6.1 billion in 2004, growing to $14.1 billion global market by 2008.

Automotive a Microsoft target

Given the size of the automotive telematics market, it's not surprising that Linux is not the only software vehicle in the telematics technology race.

For its part, Microsoft has long targeted the automotive market with an automotive-specific version of its lightweight embedded OS, Windows CE, a product re-christened as “Windows Automotive” in 2002, and updated in April of 2003. Windows Automotive provides technology that includes speech technology, PDA and cellphone integration, Web services, GPS navigation, hands-free phone operation, and remote diagnostics. Further details can be found here.

Windows Automotive and Microsoft's larger “Connected Car” telematics technology portfolio were recently named Best Telematics Solution at a convention in Detroit, but the Redmond Giant has sometimes struggled to win friends in the somewhat insular automotive industry, according to a December, 2003 article at ZDNet, because of its aggressive marketing tactics.

What is “Automotive Grade Linux?”

Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) is Metrowerks's term for a strategic investment the company is making around improving Linux for use in automotive telematics. Metrowerks director of transportation marketing Michael O'Donnell calls Linux “the future of Telematics,” but adds that Linux adoption in telematics has been hampered by many of the same obstacles the OS faces in the consumer electronics market: chiefly, inadequate real-time determinism, slow boot times, and insufficient power management.

For example, says O'Donnell, you have to be able to leave a car parked for 30 days in an airport parking lot, and the on-board computers — which are programmed to wake up at intervals, run a few diagnostics, and go back to sleep — must not deplete the battery during such periods of inactivity.

Furthermore, drivers expect to be able to use computer-based features of their cars instantly, leading designers to create features that start onboard computers when doors are unlocked, or when a person sits down in the driver seat, O'Donnell notes.

AGL goals

O'Donnell lists the requirements of Automotive Grade Linux as follows:

  • Must be based on open standards in order to support supply chain management
    • POSIX
    • JAVA
  • Must have high software quality
  • Meet real-time requirements, including
    • Determinism
    • Fast boot time
  • Must support controller-level power management
    • Car electronics are evolving from 12-volts to 42-volts
  • Must interface with in-vehicle networks
    • CAN, MOST, LIN, Diagnostic, Serial
  • Must have middleware for integrating with a wide range of technologies
      Wireless networking, security, memory interfaces, mp3, voice recognition, etc.

O'Donnell says that Metrowerks will continue to make strategic investments in Automotive Grade Linux that include:

  • Partnering with parent Freescale to support Freescale's PPC telematics chips
    • Freescale today announced an AGL BSP (board support package) for the Freescale Total5200 telematics platform
  • Work with standards bodies and free software community to refine AGL technology and implementations
  • Forge relationships with suppliers around AGL
    • O'Donnell says that one unnamed Tier 1 telematics company has already signed up to use AGL

Where is AGL today?

Metrowerks claims that its AGL technology currently offers the following features and capabilities:

  • Sub-40 millisecond response time for in-vehicle bus communication
  • Real-time capabilities to track and qualify response times within the Linux operating system
  • Very low power consumption

Ian Riches, director of an automotive electronics service at Strategy Analytics, says, “Linux is an attractive operating system for the automotive market, but until now, has not been a viable option. The Metrowerks Automotive Grade Linux technology will help overcome some of the barriers. [Metrowerks's] continued commitment to Linux and the transportation industry will help increase the use of telematics and further perpetuate the adoption of Linux for automotive technologies and devices.”

O'Donnell says that Metrowerks is planning to work with standards bodies and the Linux community to continue to refine AGL technology and its implementation. Possible partner organizations include the OSDL, CELF, and ELC, he says.

More details about Metrowerks's freely downloadable AGL BSP for Freescale's Total5200 are available here. Metrowerks also notes that its Professional Services Group is up to speed on AGL, and ready to help automotive manufacturers “integrate open source or proprietary middleware technologies from third-party vendors to offer networking, security/encryption, memory or consumer interface capabilities.”

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