The driving properties or the external appearance of cars, which used to serve as a differentiator between manufacturers, no longer play a key marketing role today. It is the car’s software that has become the new growth engine for the automotive industry. Yet, the question remains where this software should come from and whether it pays to use a free-access license. Here we compare the most popular automotive open-source solutions.
What exactly is Open Source Software in the automotive industry?
Most of the software developed by the major automotive companies is copyrighted to other players in the market. Does this mean that being a less well-resourced player, it is impossible to thrive in the SDV sector? Not necessarily, and one of the solutions may be to take advantage of open-source software (OSS).
A characteristic of such access is that the source code is freely available to programmers under certain licensing conditions.
Flexible customization to meet your needs
It is important to know that OSS does not necessarily entail that a given vehicle manufacturer is „doomed” to certain functionalities. After all, the operating system, even if based on publicly available code, can then be developed manually.
The programmer is therefore authorized to benefit from free libraries, and cut and paste individual values into the code at will, modifying the content of the whole.
OSS is gaining ground
According to Flexera’s research, more than 50% of all code written globally today runs on open source. That’s a large percentage, which reflects the popularity of free software.
The OSS trend has also gained importance in the automotive industry in recent years, with OEMs trying with all their might to keep up with technological advances and new consumer demands. According to the same study, between 50% and 70% of the automotive software stack today comes from open source.
In contrast, Black Duck software audits of commercial applications demonstrate that open-source components are predicted to account for 23% of automotive applications.
Automotive Open-Source Software implies a number of benefits. But can we already talk about a revolution?
Why is the mentioned solution so popular nowadays? In fact, there are several reasons.
- Allows minimizing costly investments (budget saved can be used as a way of developing other solutions).
- Enables vehicle manufacturers to offer consumers a fresh and compelling digital experience.
- Contributes to faster business growth due to reduced expenses and „tailor-made” software development teams.
- Provides benefits to consumers by making cars safer with more reliable data.
- It is used to maximize product agility cost-effectively.
Clearly, these arguments are quite strong. Yet, to be able to talk about a revolution and a complete transition to OSS in the automotive industry, it will still take some more time. After all, at present, this is applied mainly to selected vehicle functions, such as entertainment.
Nevertheless, some companies are already embracing free licensing, seeing it as a new business model. The potential is certainly substantial, although not yet fully harnessed. For instance, it is said to be very difficult to meet all the requirements of SDV, including those related to digital security issues, as we write later in the article.
Examples of open-source solutions in the auto industry
Automotive Grande Linux
The Linux operating system is a prime example of the power of an open-source solution. The base of this tech giant ranks among the top operating systems worldwide, especially when talking about automotive.
The Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) project is particularly noteworthy here, as it brings together manufacturers, suppliers, and representatives of technology companies. AGL platform, with Linux at its core, develops an open software platform from the ground up that can serve as the de facto industry standard, enabling the rapid development of the connected car market. Automotive companies, including Toyota, already leverage Linux open-source for automotive.
As of today, AGL (hosted by the Linux Foundation, the world’s) is the only organization that seeks to fully aggregate all the functionalities of modern vehicles into Open-Source software. This includes such areas as:
- Infotainment System – UCB 8.0 currently available, SDK available.
- Instrument Cluster – device profile available with UCB 6.0 (Funky Flounder).
- Telematics – device profile available with UCB 6.0 (Funky Flounder).
- Heads-up Display (HUD).
- Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).
- Functional Safety.
- Autonomous Driving.
The founders of the project assume that in the current reality it is becoming obvious that the amount of code needed to support autonomous driving is too large for any one company to develop it independently. That’s why they are the first in the world aiming to create a coherent OSS ecosystem for the automotive industry.
Red Hat In-Vehicle Operating System
A competitive approach is being adopted by Red Hat, which has also mushroomed into a group of free software innovators in connected cars. Their proprietary solution, Red Hat In-Vehicle Operating System, is designed to help automakers integrate software-defined vehicle technology into their production line faster than ever.
General Motors and Qualcomm Technologies Inc. have already declared their interest in such an approach.
Part of the mission of the above-mentioned company is to develop certified functional safety systems built on Linux with functional safety certification (ASIL-B) to support critical in-vehicle applications. IVOS from Red Hat is currently (Fall 2022) being tested on the Snapdragon® Digital Chassis™. This is a set of cloud-connected platforms for telematics and connectivity, digital cockpit, and advanced driver assistance systems. This collaboration is intended to provide:
- faster implementation of new digital services and innovative new features connected to the cloud,
- new opportunities for more in-depth customer engagement,
- the ability to update services over the vehicle’s lifetime via the cloud,
- the option of gaining expanded capabilities to perform simple and efficient vehicle updates and maintain functional safety,
- the ability to redefine the driving experience for customers by ensuring seamless connectivity and enhanced intelligence.
Android Automotive OS
Great opportunities are also offered by the software based on a system featuring a distinctive green robot in its logo.
Android Automotive OS (AAOS), as its name is known, is earning increasing recognition across the globe. This is no coincidence, as it allows car companies to provide customers with the most tailor-made experience. Polestar and Volvo were among the first to introduce Android Automotive OS to their Polestar 2 and XC40 Recharge, andrecently Renault has done this with Megane E-Tech.
Other brands have followed suit. Manufacturers such as PSA, Ford, Honda, and GM have already declared their intention to incorporate AAOS into the vehicles they develop.
Part of the implementations come with Google Automotive Services (GAS): Play Store, Google Maps, Google Assistant, and other parts without, their own app stores, and assistants.
Here are selected capabilities of the above-mentioned software:
- AAOS being an integral part of the car brings ideas about controlling features of a car, or at least reading them and reacting within an application accordingly. Emulation provides just a few options to simulate car state, ignition, speed, gear, parking brake, low fuel level, night mode, and environment sensors(temperature, pressure, etc.).
- There is still a requirement to follow design patterns for automotive, and Google is providing a whole design system page.
- Applications submitted to the store are mandatory for an additional review.
- Right now, the documentation states that supported categories for Android Automotive OS apps are focused on in-vehicle infotainment systems: Media, Navigation, Point of Interest, and Video.
Regrettably, though Android has a lot of potential, it still has limitations in terms of functionality and capabilities. Hence, it cannot be described as an ideal solution at this point. We wrote more about these issues and possible solutions to AAOS.
Meanwhile, if you are interested in automotive implementation using Android read this guide.
COVESA / Genivi
The embedded Android Automotive system in vehicles requires proper integration with existing software and with other systems found in the car (for safety, car data, etc.). The Android Automotive SIG project, led by GENIVI, was created with large-scale rollouts in mind.
The premise of the AASIG Android Development Platform is that OEMs, their suppliers, and the broader cockpit software ecosystem can easily and successfully identify both the shortcomings and requirements. This is intended to be done in close collaboration with Google’s Android Automotive team.
Among the issues addressed are the following:
- access to vehicle information,
- responsibility for long-term maintenance,
- multi-display operation,
- audio management,
- extensions for Android in the automotive environment,
- keeping the in-vehicle system updated to support new Android versions,
- outlining the boundaries within which Tier 1/OEM suppliers must take over major responsibility for supporting Google’s Android Automotive team.
As can be seen, in the case of Android, there are a number of hot spots that need to be properly dealt with.
What limitations do you need to be aware of?
Ensuring a high level of security in safety-critical automotive environments has always posed a major challenge for Open-Source Software. This is because you have to reconcile customer expectations while also ensuring data protection.
Certainly, open-source software has more vulnerabilities than dedicated software and thus is more susceptible to hacker attacks. Even a single exploit can be used to compromise hundreds of thousands of applications and websites. Obviously, static and dynamic application security testing (SAST and DAST) can be implemented to identify coding errors. However, such testers do not perform particularly well in identifying vulnerabilities in third-party code.
So if you plan to use connected car technology, you need to examine the ecosystem of software used to deliver these functions. It is also critical to properly manage open-source software in your overall security strategy.
OSS opportunities and challenges
All told, until some time ago, OSS was mainly focused on entertainment. Besides, OEMs have historically been forced to choose between only a few software stacks and technologies. But today they are faced with a rapidly growing number of OSS proposals, APIs, and other solutions.
On top of that, they have a growing number of partners and tech companies to collaborate with. And initiatives such as Autoware and Apollo shift their focus toward applications relevant to the safety and comfort of autonomous vehicles. Of course, these opportunities are also coupled with challenges, such as those related to security or license compliance. On the other hand, this still does not negate the enormous potential of open-source software.
It can be hypothesized that in the long term, a complete transition to SDV will require manufacturers to make optimal use of open-source software. And this will include an increasing range of vehicle functionality. This is an obvious consequence of the rapidly changing automotive market (which in a way forces the search for agile solutions) and growing consumer and infrastructure demands.
Sooner or later, major OEMs and the automotive community will have to face a decision and choose: either proprietary comfort (such as CARIAD from Volkswagen) or the flexibility offered by OSS projects.