The open-source software revolution is coming to the car.
Most in-vehicle infotainment systems sold today use proprietary software, with the underlying code tightly controlled by automakers and by a few major software providers, such as Microsoft and Ottawa-based QNX Software Systems.
Now the auto industry is exploring open-source operating systems such as Linux more seriously than ever, hoping that sharing the work and making code available to all will lead to more rapid development cycles, lower costs and happier drivers.
Car companies "are falling behind other mobile devices, and they know it," said Dan Cauchy, general manager of automotive at the Linux Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit organization.
"If you're buying an infotainment system for a couple grand in your car, it's one of the most expensive purchases that you make. You want it to be on par with your mobile phone."
That is the goal of Automotive Grade Linux, a 2-year-old project run by the Linux Foundation along with Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover and dozens of software companies and automotive suppliers.
In June, the AGL coalition released its first production-ready software kit. Cauchy said it now takes about 42 months to develop an infotainment system, but Automotive Grade Linux's developers hope it will speed the cycle to that of smartphones: six to 12 months.