Toyota Takes an Open-source Approach to Infotainment, Establishes New Industry Standard

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
toyota takes an open source approach to infotainment establishes new industry

A modestly priced new vehicle costs roughly the same as a bathtub full of smartphones. However, if you want to check your email or get an update on the weather, you’ll find the car at a clear disadvantage. Automakers are beginning to bill themselves as tech companies, but the majority have yet to master the art of integrating a pleasurable electronic interface. While manufacturers certainly don’t need cutting-edge displays to construct a competent mode of transportation, consumers expect more from their automobiles. Now, the industry’s competitive spirit is driving things forward.

One way of delivering on those growing expectations is to switch to an open-source platform that allows software developers to get new applications onto devices lickety-split. It’s the path Toyota has decided to take by running a Linux-based platform on the revamped Camry. With those advantages comes some potential risks, but it hasn’t stopped automakers from pushing for a standardized platform more representative of mobile devices.

Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) is a collaborative effort that hopes to establish an industry standard for connected cars. Toyota, along with Daimler AG, Ford Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp, Suzuki Motor Corp, and five other automakers are working with tech firms to develop the universal platform and abolish the need to code each model individually.

According to Reuters, the forthcoming Camry sedan will have AGL baked in to operate its suite of in-vehicle apps, taking advantage of its quick development turnaround and ability to grow as new applications come to market — much like your smartphone would. The Japanese automaker also wants to include the operating system in future incarnations of Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

“It’s very necessary to reduce the overhead of duplication work among our suppliers so they can spend more time to create new things rather than maintaining fragmentary codes,” said Kenichi Murata, group manager of Connected Strategy and Planning at Toyota.

Swapping to Automotive Grade Linux should expedite development, standardize interfaces, and give the automaker using it additional control. An open source system provides carmakers with a way to swiftly develop technologies without having to share customer data with Google or Apple. But, as the system becomes more ubiquitous, problems are likely to arise. Few automakers will admit to it, but exposing connected vehicles to vulnerabilities and potentially malicious software will be par for the course with an open-source platform.

Relying on hundreds of independent vendors using their own custom code and lines from a third party creates new opportunities for bad things to happen. That supply chain makes things difficult to keep track of, so when a problem arises it could be some time before anyone figures out what’s wrong. And malware developers will be interested in finding and exploiting vulnerabilities, especially things that relate to personal information. Open-source software makes its code available for anyone to change or distribute for any purpose.

There are also issues relating to vehicle maintenance. Your phone’s operating system is likely to be updated routinely for its brief lifespan of two or three years. We keep cars for far longer. Some vendors are likely to abandon some application support long before your car is ready to head to the scrapyard. OEMs need to take this into consideration.

However, a move like this was inevitable. A Linux OS specifically designed for automobiles will save manufactures a bundle and should keep them from being quite so badly handicapped by the extended pre-production design period. Dan Cauchy, Linux’s general manager for automotive software, told Forbes the automotive industry had waited long enough on the technology.

“It took a while, but carmakers now see that a standardized system like AGL is in their best interests, as it reduces cost and leads to quicker development and implementation times,” Cauchy said. “Car companies now finally realize that they do not just build cars. They are in the software business too.”

[Image: Toyota]

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  • Stingray65 Stingray65 on Jun 02, 2017

    Of course open-systems will be connected to all aspects of the vehicle's electronics which control all elements of the car from steering, brakes, throttle, gearing, door locks, climate control, etc. Imagine a driver getting into his car and upon turning on the radio the doors automatically lock and a message appears on the screen directing the driver/hostage to transfer funds to an offshore account using the touchscreen or face a head-on collision with large tree.

  • Thegamper Thegamper on Jun 02, 2017

    I really don't get all the fuss over in car tech. When I buy a car I just want the car. The only tech I need is a way to interface with MY phone. Bluetooth, whatever. Our phones are much more useful, capable and better designed than anything the automakers can put out. I especially don't want to pay for Toyota's or anyone elses in house operating system when I have a much better choice 2 feet away in my own pocket. I am a die hard Android guy with a house full of Pixels, of course drive a car equipped with Apple car play. Not sure why an automaker would equip with Apple car play only and not Android auto since Android owns so much more of the smartphone market, but whatever. The Bluetooth connection lets me do everything I want to do so don't care.