Auto Grade Linux Steers Closer to an In-Car Infotainment Standard

Automotive Grade Linux on Monday announced the industry’s first open in-vehicle infotainment, or IVI, software specification requirements.

The release of AGL Requirements Specification 1.0 is a major milestone. It moves the auto industry toward adoption of a de facto platform that uses open source development methodologies to create a safe and reliable connected-car experience. It allows OEMs and suppliers to identify gaps between the specification and code, and to provide input directly to the developer community for resolution in future AGL releases.

The IVI software specification follows last summer’s release of the AGL reference platform built on the Tizen IVI platform running HTML5 apps. The new release instead details precise specifications and requirements for any AGL-compliant IVI stack.

For the first time, automakers, automotive suppliers, and open source developers can collaborate on refining the spec — the first draft of a common, Linux-based software stack for the connected car. Open collaboration within the AGL community means support for multi-architectures and features to bolster the IVI experience.

“The release of the AGL Requirements Specification 1.0 is more than just a technical document,” said Dan Cauchy, general manager of automotive for The Linux Foundation.

“This will allow the industry to leverage and interact directly with thousands of open source developers, by providing requirements directly to the developer community,” he told LinuxInsider.

What It Does

The software specification defines a highly integrated Linux-based reference platform. It sets support standards for multiple services such as WiFi, Bluetooth, multimedia, location-based services, window system, application lifecycle management, power management and several others.

It defines support for both native and HTML5 applications, including standards for connectivity to the vehicle bus (CAN, MOST) with APIs for application and middleware.

The specification is open and be can be accessed by anyone. Plus, development is done in the open, noted Cauchy.

Competition Counts

At one level the Automotive Grade Linux Infotainment software specifications may not seem like big news. However, some very large, well-heeled vendors, including Apple and Google, really would prefer that the underlying infotainment platform in cars and trucks be their own, noted Charles King, Principal Analyst at Pund-IT.

“Automakers are not terribly happy with the idea of a single vendor’s proprietary platform dominating what many believe will be a huge commercial opportunity. The availability of Automotive Grade Linux offers them a workable, flexible alternative. That is great for the industry as a whole, and should also inspire healthy competition that will result in benefits for consumers,” he told LinuxInsider.

Long Trip Ahead

Automotive Grade Linux is far from a package ready to pack into the family auto. Specification 1.0 sets the software framework for the working hardware that device makers will develop.

Meanwhile, AGL faces competition from alternative in-car systems, such as Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto.

However, those platforms are projection technologies that are essentially protocols, argued Cauchy. Those systems still need a complete operating system to run in the head unit of the car, unlike Linux.

“In fact, it is required in order to communicate with CarPlay or Android Auto,” Cauchy said.

Still Needed

Part of the AGL charter and the plan moving forward is to have multiple profiles of the same base platform, said Cauchy, so that AGL can address other functions in the car beyond IVI, such as instrument cluster, heads-up display and telematics. Basically, if the car runs Linux, all of it should be based on AGL, no matter the application or function.

“A big part of future plans is to build an SDK and a developer community around AGL,” remarked Cauchy. “With an open source approach and standard app framework, the car makers can build a developer ecosystem and attract companies and individual developers to create new and innovative applications for the car.”

AGL differs from other developing in-car platforms in that both the specifications and the code are open source. That allows anyone to participate in its development.

Also, AGL is focusing on a complete reference platform rather than just components, Cauchy noted. It includes the Linux kernel, board support package, middleware, application framework, and support for demo apps — both native-Linux apps and HTML5 apps.

Building Principles Key

The automotive market is an inbred industry, which poses “a significant problem for adopting any technology,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Those that have been successful, like Nvidia and Qualcomm, have developed nearly complete solutions. That approach allows automakers that are behind — or that need to rapidly drop their costs to address a new feature or capability — to address the related exposure, he told LinuxInsider.

Even with Microsoft, Ford did not buy embedded Windows. It bought a near-complete solution, which it recently replaced with another nearly complete solution from the QNX unit of BlackBerry, Enderle added.

“So, while I think this move makes Linux more interesting, until it is built into a near complete solution by someone and then offered to the car makers, I doubt it will have much impact on their adoption of Linux,” he said. “More likely is that elements of this will flow into Android, which Google will then properly package into a better solution than they currently have.”

What’s Ahead?

AGL can be a one-size-fits-all solution. In addition to AGL, there has been some automotive software developed in other projects, such as Tizen IVI and GENIVI.

At last week’s Automotive Linux Summit, AGL announced that it was building a Unified Code Base to combine the best projects into a single AGL distribution for the entire industry, said Cauchy.

Security issues are being handled in the specification standards. The open source approach is more secure, as it exposes the platform to more eyes for review, and it leverages multiple companies testing the same platform, thereby exposing security issues more quickly, he added.

AGL is adopting some industry standard security frameworks for role-based access control. AGL also is analyzing Smack, SELinux and other industry solutions for inclusion in the Specification.

“We have not yet made a selection,” Cauchy said. “Those will be rolled out in the AGL platform and updates to the specification in the coming months.”

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him onGoogle+.

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