Industry-led initiative looks to create open-source automotive software platform

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The Eclipse Foundation, which champions open-source software development, has formed a new Software-Defined Vehicle (SDV) working group dedicated to developing a software platform for the automotive industry. The organization says the initiative has the support of companies from across the automotive, IT, cloud, and services industries, including Tier 1 suppliers such as Continental and ZF, as well as involvement from other industry leaders including AVL and Microsoft.

Eclipse asserts that electrification, autonomous vehicles, advanced driver assistance systems and ever-increasing consumer expectations about their in-car digital experience are dramatically transforming the system architectures embedded in vehicles. Automotive architectures are moving from networks of special purpose devices to something that more closely resembles servers on wheels, where more powerful general-purpose computers are responsible for implementing and coordinating the various systems in the automobile, including the ones which keep us and our families safe on the road. And these systems architectures are rapidly changing how automotive software needs to be built.

The vision of SDV is to radically transform the automotive industry by collaboratively developing a common software platform that all participants in the automotive industry can use in an openly licensed, royalty-free manner. From an IT technology perspective this is not particularly radical. After all, open-source platforms and ‘software-defined everything’ (e.g. storage, networking, data center, radio, etc.) are two of the defining trends in the IT industry over the past decade (or more).

In the case of open source platforms, the trend has been driven by eliminating the cost of non-differentiating software, decreasing the time to market in delivering complex systems, and reducing risk by relying on proven software platforms and components. Software-defined everything has largely been driven by Moore’s Law and the resulting cost savings of replacing special-purpose devices with general-purpose computers running special-purpose software.

But from an industry perspective, the technical implications of an openly licensed SDV software platform for the automotive industry are very radical. Eclipse states that it will dramatically reshape the automotive industry similar to how software-defined networking reshaped the telecommunications industry. Free software platforms which provide a software stack for the core non-differentiating technologies will quickly lead to disruptive technical and business innovations across the value chain in any industry.

Historically, automotive industry groups have delivered standards or specifications available only to members of their respective consortia. Often these innovations were encumbered with FRAND-style licensing arrangements which hindered wide adoption. Eclipse SDV is hoped to provide a radical departure from this ‘business as usual’ approach in automotive by focusing on open source software stacks, liberally licensed software specifications, and a community-based, collaborative approach to innovation rather than the top-down, architecture-driven, consensus-based models of the past.

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Lawrence has been covering engineering subjects – with a focus on motorsport technology – since 2007 and has edited and contributed to a variety of international titles. Currently, he oversees Automotive Powertrain Technology International and Professional Motorsport World magazines as editor.

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