How Open Source is Transforming the Automotive Industry

Jonathan MathewsPublic

One key benefit of open source is its ability to enable rapid innovation. Collaborating on non-competitive pieces of technology frees up resources, enabling companies to focus more on developing new products and services.

We are seeing this play out now in the automotive industry as automakers are adopting open source software for core technologies like the infotainment operating system. This allows them to focus more resources towards the industry-wide race to develop new technologies, mobility services, and autonomous vehicles.

According to the 2017 Autotrader Car Tech Impact Study, 53 percent of consumers expect vehicle technology to be as robust as their smartphone. Unfortunately, the automotive industry has fallen behind the smartphone in terms of features and functionality. Automotive innovation is too slow, time-to-market is too long, and there’s very little software reuse.

Part of the problem is that today’s connected car uses approximately 100 million lines of code. Compare that to the Android operating system, which runs on 12-15 million lines of code, and the average iPhone app which uses less than 50,000 lines. It’s no wonder that the product development cycle for automotive companies is so much longer than for tech companies. According to some industry data, the development of an infotainment system traditionally takes 36-39 months.  In that time period, three or four versions of iPhone and Android phones will be released.

One of the main obstacles preventing automakers from innovating as quickly as tech companies is that the infotainment landscape is very fragmented. Imagine for a second if each PC or laptop manufacturer had its own version of an operating system; this would mean that application developers would have to make sure their software works with each manufacturer. What a mess! Yet this is exactly the situation we have in the automotive market. Each automaker has its own proprietary system that was built using a custom version of Linux, QNX, or Windows Embedded, and there’s very little code reuse.

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