Linux Wants the Future of Automotive Software to Be Open SourceApril 27, 2017 by Yahya Tawil
Will cars "speak" Linux in the future?
Automotive companies are increasing the connectivity of their cars. In the process, they're all developing their own automotive software. Linux thinks that its open source software, AGL, will unify the industry. Will the cars of the future speak Linux?
Modern cars in today's digital age are mostly equipped with a complete computer running an IVI system (in-vehicle infotainment). Driven by the demand for more “connected vehicles”, in-car entertainment is getting more and more sophisticated.
Each individual automaker tends to develop its own IVI system—Ford with SYNC, Toyota with Entune, Nissan with NissanConnect. I shouldn't forget to mention Android Auto and CarPlay from the big silicon players, Apple and Google, which were developed initially to serve their main market of smartphone users.
Range Rover Evoque Autobiography IVI System. Image courtesy of Land Rover MENA [CC BY 2.0]
But just imagine if each brand of today’s computers had a different OS developed by the manufacturer from the ground up. Imagine how terrible developing a new application would be! It would be a "reinventing the wheel" approach for both the software developers and manufacturers.
Unfortunately, that’s almost a reality now in software development industry for cars.
However, the Linux Foundation is trying to step into this madness. Enter the Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) project.
The Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) Project
At last year's Embedded Linux Conference, Dan Cauchy, AGL's executive director, said referred to the IVI market as an “over-segmented and lacking-of-standardization industry”. AGL could help remedy that situation.
AGL is a Linux foundation open collaborative project aiming to build a standardized platform and applications framework for the entire industry and for all functions in a car.
The idea is that the kernel, the middleware, and the app framework will all be common and shared among all manufacturers and suppliers. They’re trying to develop 80% of the starting point for a production project, leaving the remaining 20% to be customized according to each maker needs.
AGL has major OEMs involved in the project: Ford, Honda, Jaguar, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Suzuki, and others.
Important to note for designers is that AGL's Unified Code Base (UCB) distribution can be built for QEMU, the Raspberry Pi 2 & 3, the Intel Minnowboard, the NXP i.MX6x Wandboard, the TI Jacinto 6 Vayu board, and the Renesas R-Car Starter Kit Gen3. AGL distribution is released twice a year with long-term support (+2 years) and the source code for the AGL distribution is available on their wiki. Moreover, AGL has a robust developer site.
AGL vs. GENIVI
So why is this important? Is it like the common view of using Linux to save money?
AGL has said they want to make rapid innovation using a standardized open operating system and application framework that are not under the control of any one company but developed collaboratively between many companies. Moreover, unlike most projects that target IVI systems, the AGL roadmap includes every function in the car like IVI, instrument clusters, telematics, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), control systems, and more. Their current focus, however, is on IVI.
AGL is not the first attempt at such software unification. GENIVI is an open source project for automotive that produces automotive software components, standard APIs, and a development platform for IVI and connected vehicle solutions. Dan Cauchy, at the same conference referenced above, said that GENIVI has a different approach than AGL’s. GENIVI has a particular set of specifications and any company can comply, even with a different kernel or any other software module. AGL, on the other hand, has a unified and customizable platform among all suppliers and manufacturers.
For more information, check out this GENIVI Alliance Reference Architecture (PDF) document.
The AGL System. Image courtesy of AGL
Looking Towards the Future
Recently, Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, announced adapting Automotive Grade Linux in its digital strategy. Here, a lot of questions should be asked about the future of automotive software.
For starters, will AGL or other projects like Android Auto dominate this industry in the coming years?
Will Google bring Android platform to cars via the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) with +50 automaker partners and repeat the success of Open Handset Alliance in bringing Android to smartphones industry?
What will that mean for designers? What will that mean for consumers?
To learn more about AGL, watch their presentation at January's Embedded Linux Conference below or view the slides.