Linux Foundation’s Open Source Automotive Software Project Takes Off

When we last covered the Linux Foundation’s Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) project—a collaborative, cross-industry, nonprofit effort to develop a common, open-source software stack for the connected car—it was 2016 and the automotive industry was just beginning to warm up to development partnerships that could advance autonomous vehicles and other mobility services.

Three years later, and AGL is “a completely different organization for the better,” says Dan Cauchy, executive director.

The purpose of AGL is to enable rapid, mass innovation through “a common platform that can serve as the de facto industry standard for infotainment, telematics, and instrument cluster applications,” the organization says. By adopting an open platform across the industry, suppliers and automakers can reuse and share the same code base, which AGL says decreases the time it takes new products to get to market, reduces development costs, and helps mitigate fragmentation across the industry.

Cauchy says AGL has grown significantly since 2016, when it had about 40 members. “Volkswagen is the most recent to join, and we now have nine automakers,” he says. “Our 140 members account for more than 50 percent of worldwide vehicle shipments—we have pretty much all the Tier 1 suppliers and all the semi-conductor players. AGL is solid and here to stay.”

Another change from 2016, Cauchy says, is an increase in AGL members who “aren’t traditional car-related companies, but that want to be part of the industry’s ecosystem, such as Adobe and Amazon.” AGL worked with Amazon to incorporate Alexa, the retail giant’s voice-activated virtual assistant, in the new Toyota RAV4. Amazon Web Services also worked with AGL to create a cloud platform for the organization.

“This is what we intended—for big companies like Amazon to create turnkey solutions out of the box with AGL,” Cauchy says.

So far, AGL has deployed open-source software for instrument clusters, heads-up displays, and telematics. The organization’s software first appeared in the 2017 Toyota Camry but is now “shipping in millions of cars,” including other Toyota models and Mercedes vans.

Cauchy says the next step is vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) applications that could connect cars to smart cities and smart grids. “We’re seeing large companies looking at open source as a way to improve the development process, time to market, and rapid innovation,” he continues. “They can focus on things that matter, things common to everyone.”

Cauchy partially attributes AGL’s success to an ambivalence toward data ownership, and its desire to steer clear of industry politics.

“A lot of car companies are saying, ‘Wait a sec—we want to be in charge of our own destiny.’ They want a relationship with consumers and to own the data they’re generating,” he says. “That’s why a lot of them are going the AGL route: it’s not controlled by one company and they’re free to modify it any way they want. We leave the data piece up to manufacturers. If they want to collect data, that’s their policy.”

As for the ongoing development of autonomous vehicles, Cauchy thinks a major challenge is the safety certification process. It was created decades ago when the computer languages in heavy use today didn’t exist, he explains.. “The safety certification process needs to be changed to take modern languages and tools into account,” he adds.

In February, the Linux Foundation launched an open-source project called Enabling Linux in Safety Applications (ELISA) to “create a shared set of tools to help companies build and certify safety-critical applications and systems whose failure could result in loss of human life, significant property damage, or environmental damage.” Cauchy says the project is focused on improving safety in things like airplanes, vehicles, and nuclear plants. AGL will closely collaborate on the automotive piece.

Cauchy also expects AGL to have a big year in terms of adoption and membership, and the organization plans to further concentrate on vehicle-to-cloud and V2X software. AGL is holding a summit in July and plans to have a “massive booth” at CES in January.

“Our joint development approach is really working,” he says. “When Toyota finds a bug, everyone benefits. That economy of scale is really working. Multiply that by 140 [member] companies and we’ve got a heck of a development machine.”

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