Metrowerks drives Linux towards automotive industry

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."