Now the auto industry is exploring open-source operating systems
such as Linux more seriously than ever, hoping that sharing the
work and making code available to all will lead to more rapid
development cycles, lower costs and happier drivers.
Car companies "are falling behind other mobile devices, and they
know it," said Dan Cauchy, general manager of automotive at the
Linux Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit. "If you're buying an
infotainment system for a couple grand in your car, it's one of the
most expensive purchases that you make. You want it to be on par
with your mobile phone."
That is the goal of Automotive Grade Linux, a 2-year-old project
run by the Linux Foundation along with Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover and
dozens of software companies and automotive suppliers.
In June, the AGL coalition released its first production-ready
software kit. Mr. Cauchy said it now takes about 42 months to
develop an infotainment system, but Automotive Grade Linux's
developers hope it will speed the cycle to that of smartphones: six
to 12 months.
Linux is gaining more attention now that production cars, such
as the 2014 Kia Soul and the 2014 Lexus IS,
are starting to move to Linux-based infotainment systems.
QNX, owned by Toronto-based BlackBerry, the seller of BlackBerry
smartphones and tablets, has a dominant position in automotive
operating systems with a market share of more than 50%. Andrew
Poliak, director of automotive business development at QNX, said
that reflects the company's long-standing ties to car companies and
a proven record of safety.
Its operating system is used in environments -- such as nuclear
reactors -- with even more rigorous reliability demands than cars.
Still, the company sees Linux as a rival because automakers are
looking for choices to avoid being locked into QNX.
"Linux has a lot of development behind it, a lot of mind share
and a lot of passionate people," Mr. Poliak said. "It's going to be
He said open source can be risky, though, because anyone, even a
malicious hacker, has access to the code. QNX keeps the core of its
operating system, called the "kernel," proprietary for security and
But the allure of open source, which requires no royalties, may
prove to be strong. Mr. Cauchy said that once automakers fully
customize Automotive Grade Linux with their own style and features,
they may discover there's no need to go their own way.
"You don't need to reinvent the wheel by having your own" user
interface, Mr. Cauchy said. "The automotive guys get that now."
--Gabe Nelson is a reporter for Automotive News