Enhancing automotive businesses through open source – Part 1

Have you ever considered car manufacturers able to become software companies?

The modern automotive industry is undergoing a sea change. As the famous quote by Marc Andreessen goes, “Software is eating the world!” This means every auto company needs to actually become a software company, via a process called “digitalization.” But how?

Open source is often a quick path to digitalization because it provides organizations software that’s already in production. Open source also creates an opportunity for non-traditional automotive companies like Nvidia, Intel, and Luxoft Sweden to engage OEMs directly by becoming more agile than traditional hardware and software providers in the industry.

By simply adopting an embedded GNU/Linux stack, adding industry-standard middleware, building production-ready user interfaces, and wedding it all to highly flexible, automotive-specific open hardware, a business can go to market with a nearly complete in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system that otherwise would take years to create. This highlights the advantage of open source in automotive; high quality, highly flexible embedded systems are available at a very low cost, and they are transforming the way OEMs work.

Why is open source necessary for the automotive industry?

Short answer: open source directly helps OEMs.

Using open source lets carmakers build and improve their software platforms iteratively. For instance, while in the past OEMs obtained hardware and software packaged together each time they needed to embed a radio system into their cars, this practice has long since changed. Now, OEMs can carry over previously used software and modify it for new hardware instead of buying or building something completely new. This means software systems can improve over time, with each use counting as a valuable “test”. And since sellers can establish prices for open source hardware and software separately (since they don’t need to pre-package them together), it also enables transparent price negotiation.

Open source also commoditizes certain software. For example, it’s practically impossible to sell a stand-alone media player since there are so many free options available. Plus, creating a media player is relatively easy, and trying to add additional value to differentiate it is difficult. So to some degree a media player is a commodity; there is little difference between various media players, as they all share similar features.

One way to add value to commodity software is to test it for specific uses and to standardize its application programming interface (API), allowing others to reuse its functionality and extend it themselves. New owners can add additional functionality, visual designs, or integrate a simpler human-machine interface (HMI), for instance.

Consider this: Android’s software has been installed over 2 billion times. The company’s open source software is considered a standard, and has been deployed to multiple system on chips (SoC) and hardware platforms – creating a large eco-system of valuable services dependent on a single platform. OEMs yearn to build the same kind of eco-system for themselves, so they can switch suppliers without being tied to a particular supplier’s base code. If every automotive supplier understands and uses the same set of open source libraries – the same base code – then OEMs can switch suppliers based on price or other factors without worrying about their projects failing. And new suppliers don’t need to write major applications from scratch; they’ll be able to start on an open and shared base code.

Truthfully, open source is something every business should consider. To learn more and find out how you can utilize open source for your needs, stay tuned for our next blog!

In the meantime, check out Luxoft’s GitHub here, where we display a strong presence for ready-to-use open source code!

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