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Linux and automotive: reaching a tipping point

Oct 23, 2006 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Foreword: This insightful guest column anticipates the emergence of embedded Linux as a key margins driver for the automotive industry, due to its ability to run “driver-assist” applications perceived as “high-value” by consumers. It was written by Wind River's chief marketing officer, John Bruggeman. Enjoy . . . !

Linux and Automotive: Reaching a Tipping Point
by John Bruggeman

Linux has always been suspect when it comes to automotive applications.

The general belief was that safety-critical automotive applications required a deterministic, real-time operating system. Linux just didn't cut it for telematics or under-the-hood applications. OEMs relied on proprietary OS companies for their solutions.

Now some of that belief is grounded in fact. Consequently, Linux adoption in automotive has moved at a snail's pace.

But I believe moving forward, Linux adoption in the automotive industry will happen quickly, dramatically, and in ways we never expected.

We are now at a tipping point (Wikipedia) — the point at which several key drivers [so to speak –ed.] align to make the uncommon common.

Here's what I see:

First, there are the business drivers. The automobile industry is hungry for a new business model. Gone are the days when a car company could charge a premium for anti-lock brakes or air bags. Today, these are expected features in the base price of a car. Those high margins have dried up.

The auto industry now needs a business model that looks more like the consumer electronics industry: faster development cycles, higher margins, and amazing new devices and features that consumers will willingly pay a premium for.

For the automotive business, this new model has come in the form of “car infotainment:” navigation systems, in-dash audio, and video systems, etc.

Infotainment is where luxury car companies are making their high margins, and it's moving down to mid and low-end cars. And margins can stay high because Linux is an adequate solution for infotainment applications. Nobody's life was threatened when an audio system failed.

But Linux is now quietly creeping into another set of high margin automotive applications — applications you don't necessarily associate with infotainment.

They're “driver assist” applications that automatically help you park your car, or change your ambient light setting, or adjust your rearview mirror. They're the kind of non-infotainment applications that consumers perceive as high value.

What's more, those applications are all run out of the infotainment control unit. So, the perception between what are “consumer electronics” features in a car and “safety critical” features is blurring.

So what are the ramifications of a Linux tipping point?

It means a rejuvenated automotive industry. It means that consortia driving automotive standards (Autosar, JASPAR) really have teeth. It will also mean new safety standards that can keep up with much faster development cycles.

Put on your seatbelts, this will be an interesting ride.

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John Bruggeman, Wind River's chief marketing officer, oversees the company's product planning and management, corporate marketing, and field marketing. Bruggeman holds a BS in statistics and computer science from San Jose State University and a MS in mathematics from the University of Connecticut.

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