By on June 1, 2017

Toyota Camry NYIAS 2017, Image: Toyota

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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21 Comments on “Toyota Takes an Open-source Approach to Infotainment, Establishes New Industry Standard...”

  • avatar

    I call BS! Without Apple Carplay and Android Auto they will start to lose sales.
    What matters in this market is to be able to connect with 99% of the phones out there. Everything else is just wishful thinking.
    If Toyota wants to have Linux driving its own system, that is fine. Who cares what version of Linux runs inside the Camry entertainment system? Have at it! Do whatever you want inside your “box”, Toyota! But present this as an OPTION to Carplay and/or Android Auto.
    To develop AGL and complete ignore the big phone systems out there is just plain silly and shows that you only care about your ability to control the apps, and couldn’t care less about customer choice and convenience.
    And don’t tell me AGL replaces Apple/Android. It does not. Not even close. They are not even comparable.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sure they will offer Carplay and Android Auto on top of AGL. Automakers must offer an OS that suites all customers whether they have an Apple or Android phone or not.

      My guess is that, where we are headed is automakers using AGL for the host operating system. This host OS will offer apps and functionality for customers that don’t have or don’t want to integrate with their mobile device(s). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will run on top of the host OS.

      I won’t be surprised if in the future customers will be able to configure the car to start up entirely in the system of their choice. For example, an iPhone user will select the “Apple CarPlay experience” and when they start up the car, they only experience CarPlay. Within CarPlay will be automaker specific apps that will manage the cars systems (preferences and maintenance and so forth).

      At the same time, with wider adoption of AGL across automakers, there will be a common runtime to target for apps, thereby creating more of an incentive for developers to target the platform.

      • 0 avatar

        I sincerely hope you’re right, tnk479.
        However, everything I read about Toyota and AGL says this is an alternative, more flexible etc etc, without any references to Apple/Android. And that Toyota does not want to share data with Apple and Google. If I had to bet I’d say we won’t see Carplay/Android Auto on any Toyota car in the next 2 to 3 years. At least.
        Again, I hope I’m wrong.

        • 0 avatar

          Auto manufacturers aren’t dumb. There’s no way they would scrap ready made integration with smartphones, knowing how important that feature is to consumers.

          My fear is that they will get things wrong, and ruin a wide array of cars for a long time. Bad infotainment is a deal breaker for me.

        • 0 avatar

          Toyota is the highest-profile holdout that I’m aware of, in terms of refusing to add Apple Car Play and Android Auto support. My guess is that most of Totyot’s customers would prefer to have Apple/Android support over any incremental improvements made to Entune/Enform in the newest Toyotas.

      • 0 avatar

        tnk is correct. The unwashed will think that this is a replacement for carplay and android auto while being ignorant to the fact that those are both projection standards for the phone display. The software underneath is probably (I love this part) Blackberry’s QNX. AGL is QNXs ACTUAL competitor not Carplay or AA. Both of those packages run on top of the base OS; in fact, they’re best described as an application themselves. They add the shiny overlay to the UI that permits you to connect your silly iFone and play music.
        You can put the pitchforks away, nobody is going to make you run Ubuntu on your car infotainment system. From Wikipedia: “At the Geneva Motor Show, Apple demonstrated CarPlay which provides an iOS-like user interface to head units in compatible vehicles. Once configured by the automaker, QNX can be programmed to handoff its display and certain functionality to an Apple Carplay device.”
        What is interesting is that for the first time that I’m aware of, there will be an open source platform hiding in the dashboard. QNX is proprietary and closed source (since BB bought it); all the geeks and tinkerers will likely be very pleased by the potential to customize the infotainment as they like. Security practitioners may like it less since some of the nastiest vulnerabilities that have come up in recent years have been at the hands of open source (heartbleed and poodle came from openssl, Apache Struts has been notorious, GlibC, etc.). Given the open source model of reusing packages and components, there is a strong likelihood that much nastiness is possible. Being a Linux geek myself, I can tell you that really can’t go a day or two without being overdue for handful of patches; I’m not sure how well this will go over in a car unless the expectation is that the car is always connected to some upstream patch host and just installs them in the background.
        In dreams, car infotainment will be a commodity computer that you get to choose your platform. Want OSX (BSD), sure, how about Windows, why not, Linux, go for it. Most importantly, the internet connected infotainment system is PHYSICALLY isolated from CAN bus systems, but we all know that’ll never happen.

      • 0 avatar

        I doubt they will offer CarPlay or Android Auto, at least initially – their press release for the 2018 Camry touts the next version of their proprietary Entune interface.

        It appears they are attempting to do an end-run around Apple and Google with AGL – they want to maintain control of the data and system interface themselves. If they produce something easy to use and reliable and bake it into every car they sell, their sheer size would enable them to create a huge road/traffic database like Waze that might make their system appeal to drivers and to operators of autonomous vehicles. Other than data, I don’t see anything that could make their system more appealing than that of competitors considering the latter’s head start in creating polished interfaces that integrate seamlessly with popular phones people already have and won’t give up.

        One thing Toyota needs to learn – people aren’t going to upgrade their car every couple of years to get new technology like they do with their smartphone. Looking at the release notes for updates to their current infotainment systems, they provide minimal functionality upgrades via software, instead putting new generations of head units with new features into cars each year. Similarly, their Entune/Enform app suite appears stagnant in terms of functionality. Looking at the iTunes app, From 2014-2016, Enform only gained Slacker, replaced Bing with a a POI search tool, and made “various minor updates”. That’s simply not going to cut it with customers who can get more rapid capability enhancements via Apple or Google on competitors’ products with CarPlay/AndroidPlay.

    • 0 avatar

      “Without Apple Carplay and Android Auto they will start to lose sales.”

      Or they could abandon those abominations and come up with an open standard that primarily uses the vehicle as an input and display device. It’d be simpler to implement, offer more flexibility, not be locked to a single platform, and be somewhat future proof. In the short term, they could offer up apps on Android and iOS.

      • 0 avatar

        Android is easy. Its Linux with a different wrapper. Apple is different. You have to get Apple on board to get past the DRM of the media files.

        I use Mint Linux (KDE) every day and AFAIK there is not a functional way to tether your Apple product to Linux and listen to the music stored there. Every time the Linux users sort it out, Apple changes something and locks them down again. My Android phone has always worked.

        It’ll be easy to do with Apple on board. Apple shares some of the same bones as Linux too – well, actually BSD but they are close cousins.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem auto manufacturers have is constant changes made to the phones. Trying to get customers’ phones to work with your car has been the worst challenge. With my current employer, I spend more time on customers’ phones than actual vehicle issues. Smartphones also have to many variables. Each software update causes issues. Then you ad the service providers’ software on and the customers’ software. Good luck explaining to a customer that it’s Super Spyware Solitaire 9000 that’s the reason their Car play doesn’t work.

  • avatar
    John R

    “Car companies now finally realize that they do not just build cars. They are in the software business too.”

    It funny to me how automakers can’t get out of their own way on this. To me this like Toyota or GM making their own tires. WHY?

    Whatevs. So long as the offer Android auto and apple car play.

  • avatar

    As a Linux user I wholly approve.

  • avatar

    The biggest benefit will be the public availability of the codebase. Hopefully they’ll use github and allow us to fork it and submit pull requests.

    Being based on Linux, hopefully someone will come up with a way to run it in a virtual environment for testing, security analysis, and app development and testing.

    CarPlay and Android Auto will absolutely sit on top of this new OS giving those smartphone users the familiar UI they love while still being able to support homegrown apps and car-specific tweaks beneath.

    I can’t wait.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Pottsky must have the world’s smallest bathtub.

  • avatar

    I don’t want infotainment in my car. I get into my car to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      I do but for safety and security I would prefer that the car not be connected. The car knows how fast it is going, how far it travels, the direction it is traveling in, and increasingly it has cameras that can read street signs. Thus, I’d like to see a vehicle that can track its position from the data it already has readily available from on board sensors and instruments rather than reporting in to the NSA real time.

    • 0 avatar

      So you don’t listen to music or use maps while driving?

  • avatar

    So, as someone who understands nothing about most of the terminology used in the post and the comments, I’m asking as an end user:

    Will this make all systems easier to use? Because in most cases, its a case of having to set everything up first before your drive using a series of menus and sub menus and sometimes touchscreens (although, a good number of vehicles still offer the most needed functions, like climate control, volume, etc, via one touch buttons). The type of thing you shouldn’t be doing while driving. It often takes too long and requires too much attention away from the road.

    So, anything that makes it simpler and more intuitive is great as far as I’m concerned. I don’t really care what OS or codes or whatever is making that happen.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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