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5 Reasons Infotainment is the First Target for Open Source Software in Cars

The In-Vehicle-Infotainment (IVI) System is the most complex electronic system in the car.  It collects data from all of the car’s sensors and integrates functions as diverse as navigation, climate control, media playback, cellphone connectivity and more.

Yet automakers have focused on IVI as their first target for open source software collaboration. Both the Automotive Grade Linux working group and GENIVI alliance are pioneering collaborative efforts to develop a Linux-based open source platform for IVI software development.

In-Vehicle Infotainment Land RoverWouldn’t it be easier to overhaul the software behind a single task such as engine control or the door locks, before tackling the IVI behemoth? Well, yes, say representatives from both initiatives. But the potential cost savings and efficiency gains with an IVI overhaul are big incentives for automakers.

The number of lines of software code in the IVI system has exploded in recent years. As a result, “the cost (of manufacturing) has been shifting to the software, away from hardware,” said Roger Lanctot, associate director of the global automotive practice at the Strategy Analytics consulting firm.

A simultaneous increase in consumer demand to accommodate mobile devices has put “tremendous pressure” on automakers to keep up with the mobile market’s faster product cycle, he said.

And so some of the world’s largest automakers, including General Motors, Jaguar Land-Rover, BMW Nissan and Toyota, are turning to open source software, and more specifically to the Linux operating system, in order to meet these challenges.

“There is much effort going towards Linux development at the moment and it’s advancing rapidly,” said Matt Jones, a Senior Technical Specialist in Infotainment at Jaguar Land Rover and Vice President of GENIVI. “Over the next 5 years (automakers) will be increasing the functionality of the Linux IVI offerings, and some are even rolling it out across all of their car lines.”

Here are five reasons open source software development makes sense for the IVI system.

1. Rapid evolution

At present, each component of the IVI system is based on a different operating system with its own proprietary software on top. This means anytime the system is updated, developers must start from scratch.

An IVI system based on Linux allows software developers to leverage the work that has already been done with the operating system in other areas, such as incorporating multimedia functionality from Linux video and media players, said Rudolf Streif, Director of Embedded Solutions with the Linux Foundation and AGL.

“Anytime anyone builds something with Linux right now they’re building on years of experience in the server, desktop and mobile markets; building on what came before. That’s the difference,” Jones said. “They’re adding functionality all the time, not using effort to recreate existing services.”

2. Cost savings and new revenue opportunities

In addition to the potential cost savings from eliminating redundant code development, automakers have new revenue opportunities from a faster development cycle.

“After a year or two a car’s infotainment system is outdated. Customers would love to update it to keep up with technology, but currently that’s not really feasible,” Streif said.

At a faster development pace, instead of waiting out the typical 4- to 5-year product cycle, customers could expect technology updates closer to the mobile product cycle of roughly 6 months, Lanctot said. And, crucially, they would pay more for the convenience.

3. IVI is new technology

Engines have been around for more than 100 years and the control functions have been finely tuned to the point that they work very well already, Streif said. Mobile phones and Internet connectivity, however, are relatively new and the industry has much less certainty about how they should operate – making them a good target for innovation. Open source components will throw the gates wide open for application developers to contribute their own solutions, speeding innovation and time to market.

4. Consumers demand change

Consumers want their cars to function like their mobile devices: always connected, easy to use by touch or voice command, and constantly changing as technology advances.  And they don’t have the same expectations of rapid advancement in other components of the car.

As Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin summarized in a Wired op/ed last October, “As automakers get into the computing business, the biggest hurdle they have to overcome isn’t each other – it’s consumer expectations driven by the rise of ubiquitous mobile computing,”

The problem is that carmakers aren’t in a position to decide which mobile devices will be supported in 5 years, Lanctot said. Using an open source-based IVI system will allow rapid development as well as incorporation of new technologies developed elsewhere and for sometimes very different purposes.

5.  IVI isn’t “safety critical”

Tinkering with the IVI software is less likely to cause a crash than, say, the engine control software. There are many hypothetical scenarios that risk analysts would love to scare us with. Hacking the IVI software could provide a gateway to more critical systems, for example. “But you could do this today with a Bluetooth port,” Jones said.

“If somebody wants to hack an IVI system they will,” Jones said. “It doesn't matter if it's open source or closed. It’s really hard to do, but it can be done.”

He argues that if anything, open source peer review can reduce this slim possibility even further. The auto industry takes customer safety and privacy very seriously. Importantly, this must be balanced against the risk that avoiding open source entirely will stifle innovation.

Open source software development and Linux integration will expand in the automotive industry beyond the IVI system in coming years, with the next likely focus resting on the dashboard.

For more, see our Q&A with Prashant Desphande, an Associate Vice President and head of the Automotive Instrument Cluster at KPIT Cummins in India, on his efforts to build Linux-powered instrument panels. Deshpande will speak on Monday, May 27 at the Automotive Linux Summit in Tokyo.



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    That was exactly what we said in 2010, before the Linux Foundation took our name AUTOMOTIVE LINUX, and just added the word GRADE (AUTOMOTIVE GRADE LINUX) to the name. The idea of attaching a Linux operating system was from our group, the idea was initially released in early 2010 as a part of the SAAB 91 project, an open source car, and was extensively published during the summer of 2010 in many magazines and media, among them the: BBC Top Gear. What we read here, specially the part of the infotaintment and the revenues system is basically what we said in 2010; however it is lacking important aspects we developed in our group, which count with an users base of around 2300 persons. We cannot see here any innovation, specially because we were working in many different ideas, also in a propietary computer language to control engines and automate every single aspect of the car. In 2010 (before you), we said Automotive Linux will provide a superior experience of the digital word to the car's passengers. Among our ideas: A digital cockpit made of glass with apps floating, allowing the driver to configure the dashboard with the fingers. The first digital dashboard from the history of the automotive world, in Linux and developed (the idea) by us. Also a semiconductors paint in the exterior chassis that serve as a solar cell and charge automatically the car when parked, also allowing to change the paint of the car, and controlled by an operating system. The Linux Foundation basically took our ideas, and presented it as an idea from the foundation, thing that made us to feel really sad for this behaviour. We know Facebook never delete data, so the facts are there. You can take a look to our group in Facebook (search us as SAAB 91) and check out all our developments from 2010. Also, you can consult many magazines worldwide, AUTO MOTOR SPORT, BBC TOP GEAR, QUATTRO ROUTE, that were talking extensively about us and OUR idea of attaching a Linux operating system of the car.

  • Uhhhh Said:

    It looks like 3 years later, someone is doing what you couldn't: moving forward. What do you have to show now from the last 3 years?

  • Derek Kerton Said:

    Really? That's your gripe? YOU invented Automotive Linux in 2010, and now they just "stole" the idea from you? The Linux-in-a-car ideas discussed here seem pretty obvious to me. The kind of things that thousands of people probably considered in the past. What's more, I hardly find it surprising that THE LINUX FOUNDATION decided to create a Automotive Grade see, they are THE LINUX's kinda their job to promote and extend the use of Linux. It's comical that you are angry at the Linux Foundation for stealing your name when Linux IS their name. I mean, I'm pretty sure they cottoned onto Linux before you did, right? So, just to be sure I'm not wrong, before posting this, I did just one quick search, using the terms "automotive linux 2008" to see if the topic was being discussed actively before your claimed "invention" of it in 2010. I got lots of good results, like this second result which discussed exactly the same stuff, and even has a section titled "Automotive Linux". It was written by Alexander Kocher, GM Automotive at Wind River, who was trying to promote Automotive Linux. Did he also steal your name? Two years before you coined it? Or is your name just a generic description of a common idea, and thus, not defendable as a trademark? When you wrote " the idea was initially released in early 2010 as a part of the SAAB 91 project" you were just dead wrong. The idea was already old, the same terms had already been used. Lemme give you some general help: every time you think you were first at something, you probably weren't. And you look bad if you get angry about it, because some guy like me will always call you out.

  • Claire Hardesty Said:

    Automotive infotainment is quite an exciting field! I am a technical recruiter in Seattle, WA and have an exciting opportunity in this industry for a developer who has strong skills in JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS3 and who has been exposed to Linux. If you're interested in learning more, please email me at!

  • kahif Said:


  • Claire Said:

    We are currently hiring - if anyone is interested in working in the automotive infotainment field in Seattle, WA!

  • Warren Said:

    There is definitely a great demand for this industry. We are ideally positioned with our team of expert developers to develop and debug IVI systems. Contact me

  • sushma Gupta Said:

    Great and a very useful blog for me. I am very much benefited after reading this blog. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • sushma Gupta Said:

    The points which are mentioned in this blog is very much informative. Keep sharing.

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