Telematics Watch

Roger C. Lanctot

Opportunity for Linux in Automotive Recession

By Roger C. Lanctot

With automobile production and sales plunging and vehicle inventories bulging, multiple opportunities are emerging to change the structure of the industry. Change is coming from within the industry in the form of car makers wanting to save time and money designing vehicles, and it is coming from outside the industry in the form of technology companies seeking greater influence and market share.

Over the past four or five years control of automotive technology has been quietly shifting from Detroit to Germany. Now, with car companies resorting to desperate means to reduce expenses and compete more effectively, Intel and Wind River have stepped in, in a partnership with BMW, to fundamentally alter the design process.

Formally announced at CeBIT last month, this new initiative, called Genivi, is designed to bring Linux into the automobile as a way for car makers and their suppliers to share and reuse software code to speed product development. The Genivi initiative emerges as a third alternative to the two dominant operating systems in the automotive market: Microsoft Auto and QNX.

The significance of the announcement at CeBIT was not clear at the time given that the roster of supporting industry players was not the usual roster of dominant German car makers. Instead, standing on the dais proclaiming their support of Genivi were Visteon, Delphi, General Motors, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Magneti Marelli. While some might have interpreted the support of some of these companies as indicating desperation, the presence of GM represented an important endorsement.

GM is perceived in the industry as a strong supporter of Genivi and, by extension, Linux in the car. The support might surprise some given the fact that GM uses QNX’s real-time operating system as part of its OnStar system. But the promise of re-usable code and the ability to tap into a growing application development community are proving overwhelmingly attractive.

Car companies not currently participating in Genivi, such as Daimler and Volkswagen, and tier ones still nursing captive operating systems, such as Robert Bosch, are giving Genivi are a hard look. More car makers and their suppliers are expected to jump aboard the Genivi bandwagon.

The emergence of Genivi reflects the growing need for the automotive industry to orient itself more directly toward the consumer electronics market. The consumer electronics market is increasingly characterized by connectivity and by dominant “platforms” for which applications, content and services are targeted.

The goal of the Genivi coalition is to turn the automobile into a platform for which developers can develop applications and services. The only two high profile players in the automotive space currently developing in Linux are Hughes Telematics and BMW, but that is expected to change soon.

As an example, Robert Bosch currently makes use of an in-house operating system, T-Engine, and is in the process of determining what operating system path to take: Microsoft, Genivi or QNX. QNX is virtually ruled out because it is property of Harman International, a competitor.

For its part, QNX has positioned its operating system development environment as an open one within which developers can share code and other enhancements. Even with that capability, though, QNX will never be able to offer the application developer community support that currently stands behind Microsoft and Linux.

While it will be years before the impact and influence of the Genivi coalition is completely appreciated, there is no doubt that there will be a significant role for Linus to play in the development of a wide range of automotive application developments today and in the future. Expect more OEMs and tier ones to join the coalition in the coming months.

April 8th, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments

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