Metrowerks drives Linux towards automotive industry

Metrowerks drives Linux towards automotive industry

Summary: A new version of Linux designed for the car industry hopes to make life easier for developers building navigation, hands-free phones and infotainment systems

Metrowerks, a provider of products for embedded developers, on Monday introduced Automotive Grade Linux (AGL), which will allow automotive companies to create navigation, hands-free phone and infotainment systems based on a customised version of the open-source operating system.

Michael O'Donnell, the director of transportation marketing at Metrowerks, said to ZDNet UK the company made changes to the Linux kernel, drivers and boot sequence to enhance its real-time capabilities, reduce power consumption and speed up boot time. Real-time responses are essential for certain telematics applications, such as navigation and fleet-management systems.

AGL is not available for public download, but a development kit based on the customised operating system can be downloaded free of charge from the Metrowerks Web site. O'Donnell defended this decision saying that the AGL is of little use without the development kit, but he is hoping that a standardised version will be available in the future.

"We haven't posted AGL publicly as it won't run without the development kit and it is custom built for only one piece of hardware. We are working with standards bodies, and are hoping to get the Linux community behind AGL, so that a standardised version can be released in the future," he said. 

The development kit, known as a Board Support Package (BSP), has been optimised for the Total5200 reference implementation -- a development platform used by embedded developers to create prototypes of telematics systems.

Although open-source developers can download the BSP free of charge, they will need to purchase a Total 5200 board at a cost of $5,000 in order to develop telematics applications, said to O'Donnell.

O'Donnell said the company chose the Linux operating system to cut costs and because it already had knowledge of Linux technology in the embedded market. It chose Linux over open alternatives such as OSEK/VDX, an automotive electronics open standard, and proprietary alternatives such as QNX.

Mike Williams, a vice-president at Gartner, said Metrowerk's announcement is quite important as the use of Linux in telematics will enable engineers to develop more compatible solutions.

"There are three to four million telematics units worldwide today and this is growing rapidly," said Williams. "By 2010 we expect about 40 percent of new cars to be telematics enabled."

Mark Bunger, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, said that Metrowerks may have a hard job convincing automotive companies and their suppliers of the benefits of Linux, rather than Windows.

"For Metrowerks to succeed, they will first need to educate automotive OEMs and Tier-1 suppliers that Linux is the way to go, and then beat Microsoft and others who want to own the dashboard," said Bunger. "That's a tall order, but it's great they're trying."


Topics: Apps, Software Development

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  • They need to sell it on stability. I have a factory installed Navigation/Entertainment system, which also controls the climate control system. The car went in for a software update last week because it keeps crashing - the Nav/Ent/Climate system, not the car! ;-)

    It looks very pretty, has a neat touch screen, but has a tendancy to stop working at inopportune moments, usually whilst travelling on the Autobahn. The nav system not working isn't a major problem,I don't tend to use it much anyway, but when the radio stops working and just blares out white-noise at high volume and the heater controls stop working, it can be distracting. The problem is, the system doesn't have an off switch, or rather it has a software operated stand-by switch, which means that if the software isn't working, you can't reset it or turn it off!

    The only way I have found to "reset" the system is to turn off the ignition (the radio will still be blasting white noise at this point, it ignores the ignition being turned off) and turn the ignition back on - the process of restarting the engine temporarily diverts all electrical power to the engine management and shuts out the onboard computer.

    This is all very well if you happen to be parked at the side of the road, but travelling down the autobahn at 100mph+, it isn't really an option, at least not a safe one. Which means putting up with the problem (white noise, too hot or too cold etc.) until you can find somewhere safe to stop and restart the engine.

    I'm not too sure who provides the software for this system, if the process involved closing all windows first as well, I would have a pretty strong idea who :-P

    For a desktop computer, that is not an acceptable situation, for a vehicle, it could be downright dangerous! Thankfully a separate computer controls things like the cruise control, automatic lights and wipers...

    If Metroworks can prove that the system is reliable and stable under all conditions, they should be onto a winner. The current system provided by the manufacturer of my car was obviously brought to market before sufficient testing was done... The fact that when I turned up at the dealer, they knew exactly what the problem was and had booked it in for an update before I could finish explaining the symptoms was an indication that this is a general problem with the model.