The Linux Foundation sponsored this post.
Like almost all industries, the automobile sector is going through a major shift. Looking at the connectedness of cars now, and comparing them to models of five to 10 years ago, you can certainly see huge differences. Digital transformation has permeated throughout the industry in interesting and innovative ways. Almost every aspect of vehicles is being updated and transformed, from the way we drive them, to the use of alternative energy to fuel them, to the way they interact with other smart devices.
Until recently, vehicles were completely mechanical-centric devices, with not much software incorporated. Fast forward to 2019, and many of us are driving around in computers on wheels. Some of these advances include:
- Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) — adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, line assist, and 360 view camera;
- Connected mobile applications;
- Navigation and infotainment;
Newly designed automobiles are edging more toward being “software-centric,” meaning it’s not only mechanical features that keep a car on the road but also the software.
However, the truth is that the auto industry is still very much in the early days of this transformation. For example, most vehicles are purchased with software that will never see updated software. Just imagine purchasing a laptop, or a mobile device and never getting a software update. The one exception here is Tesla, of course, which in many ways is operating outside of the norms of the auto industry.
For example, Tesla can update software within their vehicles in real-time as long as a wifi connection is available, but their model goes beyond just software updates. Tesla’s model considers software from beginning to end — from the design to manufacturing, Tesla builds software-defined vehicles more like a platform. While Tesla may be leading this transformation, the majority of automakers are also looking for workable solutions to adopt new ways of doing business to break the status quo.
How will the rest of the industry break the mold and continue to find success in the market? One clear path is open source and open standards, as these will accelerate innovation for the whole auto industry. Generally speaking, the open source model speeds up software development by enabling innovation and standardization. Decentralizing development encourages open collaboration by which the source code, blueprints and documentation are freely available to the public.
Automotive Grade Linux is one example where a majority of automakers are taking big steps forward through open source. Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) is a collaborative open source project hosted at the Linux Foundation that is bringing together automakers, suppliers and technology companies to accelerate the development and adoption of a fully open software stack for the connected car. With Linux at its core, AGL is developing an open platform that can serve as the de facto industry standard to enable rapid development of new features and technologies. AGL helps tackle one of the major problems with software in the auto industry, which is that there is no platform approach and all software is developed from scratch. By having one platform to build on top of, AGL is giving automakers a huge leg up.
In addition to adopting an open source model, automakers need to consider ways to connect cars. According to a recent McKinsey report, consumers are demanding a more digital driving experience. The report goes on to say: “Consumers want more connectivity, are focused on active safety and ease of use and are increasingly using digital sources in making their purchase decisions.” Furthermore, the report outlines that connectivity is a major disruptor that must be taken into consideration for a thriving auto industry. The report tells us, “as cars are increasingly integrated into the connected world, automakers will have no choice but to participate in the new mobility ecosystems that emerge as a result of technological and consumer trends.”
To establish the ideal connected car, and to fully realize a world where cars are an extension of our smart homes, devices and even cities, we need to include them in the cloud ecosystem. Sounds easy enough — just ask Siri to do it, right? In all seriousness, challenges exist, specifically when it comes to the necessary safety and security requirements dictated by the auto industry. One solution is to turn the vehicle’s internal computer into a mixed safety architecture. Within this system, safety-critical and non-safety critical components are isolated from each other, helping to adhere to strict regulations.
Existing digital cockpit designs are required to have separate computers within the vehicle that isolate all safety functions from the connected or cloud part of the cockpit. This is expensive and difficult to scale.
One solution that EPAM champions is leveraging the Xen hypervisor within the vehicle. EPAM is able to run multiple clusters, including instrumental, infotainment and HUD, on the same processing unit while giving each cluster its own isolated space via virtualization. This solves two big issues facing the industry today. First, it addresses the safety requirements in that safety components are isolated from the other clusters. Secondly, it’s much more efficient to use a virtualized system compared to multiple computer systems. You can design the head-unit using the safety compliant system for the instrumental cluster and non-safety compliant software for the infotainment cluster and still maintain the required safety level of the head unit. This is why virtualization is the right approach as it allows the consolidation of multiple systems for a mixed safety system. Having been around for more than 15 years, Xen provides maturity and stability required for a mixed safety system. Xen is supporting different ways of peripherals virtualization, which is a key for head-unit designers, particularly as GPU, imaging, and audio peripherals share safety compliant requirements.
From a technical standpoint, the Xen Community is focusing more of its energy on advancing within the auto and embedded spaces. Major features that can be expected in upcoming releases include extended guest domain functionality, peripherals sharing for complex user scenarios, virtualization of GPUs and other co-processors, TEE support for guest OSes and more.
This is a relatively new use case for Xen, which is traditionally used for compute infrastructure. In the recent past, Xen has had success with embedded use cases in production, but the focus on mixed-criticality systems and functional safety, while promising, is still new. In fact, because of this use case, and the opportunity around it, the Xen community has established a Functional Safety SIG with representatives from community members, a number of automotive and embedded vendors and safety certification assessors to enable safety certifying a subset of Xen. To further explore these topics, they will be discussed at the upcoming Xen Design and Developer Summit in July of 2019, where community members can dive in and explore this use case for the project.
Digital transformation is all around us, and because people rely so much on automobiles as a means of transportation, it is clear that this industry will be heavily impacted. If automakers stand still, they are leaving real money on the table. McKinsey has reported that, as part of a wider shift, connected services could increase auto industry revenues of about 30 percent, totaling approximately $1.5 trillion. As our world moves more and more toward connectedness, automakers, and those technologies relevant to the auto industry must consider ways to overcome the challenges. The market is pushing the auto industry closer toward digital-first experiences with no indication that they will stop. Like many industries, open source and cloud adoption can disrupt the status quo for a better, more connected world.
Feature image by Felipe Lima from Pixabay.