May 20, 2008

Intel and Wind River driving Linux infotainment systems to cars

Author: Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Linux is in our computers, our phones, our Wi-Fi equipment, and our TiVos -- why not our cars? Intel Corp. and Wind River have been working with both the embedded and automotive industries to advance in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) with open, Linux-based, standards-based, interoperable hardware and software called Open Infotainment Platforms (OIP).

The name of their game is to make it possible for both car manufacturers and after-market vendors to bring new infotainment products and features to market faster to meet consumer demands. According to Ton Steenman, Intel's vice president of the Digital Enterprise Group and general manager of the Low-Power Embedded Products Division, there has been a major shift in the automobile industry towards adding media and information built-in devices to cars.

"We see car manufacturers wanting to extend the media digital experience into the automobile, and making it so that these devices are always connected to the Internet. The industry has been trying to do this the old way of taking several years to set up a technology and then modifying it slowly as needed. That isn't doing it for them. They've been worked with Intel for two years now on how to unleash stuff quickly. So, we've worked on the definition and development of an OIP," Steenman says.

Part of that is to standardize the underlying hardware. For Intel, that means using its new Atom processors and mobile Internet device (MID) architecture and adapting its footprint to both the car dashboard and back seat entertainment system.

These devices will use Linux, and support the full TCP/IP network stack. Intel plans on using Mobile WiMax for Internet connectivity. Another part of the OIP plan is to make it consistent with MIDs. The idea, says Steenman, is that lots of people will bring their mobile devices into their cars. If the devices have the same architecture as those in the dashboard, users will be able to transfer music, maps, and other data between cars and mobile devices.

The point of all this for the automobile industry is that "this open system work will drastically improve their time to market and TCO," Steenman says. With customers expecting updates and new infotainment devices within six months, the old ways aren't fast enough. That's one reason why open source software is so important in this industry. The hardware in a car may not change, but vendors want to be able to quickly get new applications written and downloaded into them to keep up with customers' expectations.

Vincent Rerolle, senior vice president and general manager of Wind River's Linux product division, says, "What is being built in a car is radically different from five years ago. Then, everything was black box, proprietary, and it took two to five years to change anything. Today, consumers expect a different environment in their car. Sure, people still buy cars because of mileage and brand, but now they also want up-to-date infotainment. The old car systems were too closed for innovation. The automobile industry needs the open source rapid rate of innovation.

"So we're not going to repeat what the others have done. We've already heard loud and clear from the car makers that the old ways don't work. What we're putting on the table is the pre-integration, and software and hardware roadmaps, so that the open source and independent software vendor communities can focus on the applications and user interfaces."

What kind of applications? While no one is ready to deploy an Iron Man-style heads-up display on your windshield -- yet -- Intel and Wind River see location-based applications coming in the first wave. Besides built-in GPS, we might see real-time navigation so that you could, for example, find the closest pizza place that's still open with your built-in GPS/MID.

Intel and Wind River will be encouraging programmers to use the Moblin Web site for projects using their development platform. Moblin is an Intel-sponsored open source community site that's currently devoted to the Moblin Core Linux Stack for MIDs.

The companies expect the first of these car applications to appear in aftermarket car devices. Steenman says that "the first time you'll see them in production models will be in 2011. The aftermarket vendors will have products out late this year and early next year."

Finally Steenman insists that this initiative is not being driven by Intel. "The car OEMs have been coming to Intel." While "a portion of the industry is still mired in the old paradigm, the others want a path to follow that will let them move much more quickly to deliver infotainment to automobile buyers." That path, which Volkswagen and BMW are already starting down, is the Atom hardware architecture, open source software, and Linux, according to Intel and Wind River.


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