Battle for infotainment operating system heats up

  • 27-Jun-2011 10:10 EDT

The QNX operating system helps design engineers integrate consumer technologies.

Companies that make operating systems are scrambling to gain seats in infotainment systems. The open source Linux community is gravitating towards the GENIVI Alliance platform, while a handful of consumer companies are attempting to exploit the growing link between portable consumer products and automotive platforms.

In recent months, there’s been a flurry of activity around the open source GENIVI reference platform. Canonical, which makes the Ubuntu operating system used in desktops, joined the GENIVI Alliance, announcing plans to create a version of its OS for automotive applications. Green Hills Software, which makes operating systems and development tools for high-reliability markets like aerospace, also joined the alliance.

MontaVista Software LLC, a Linux developer, recently teamed up with Rightware Oy to port Rightware’s Kanzi user interface to GENIVI. They will all focus on developing software and tools that make it easier for automotive developers to link all sorts of consumer products to vehicle infotainment systems.

“When people are adding things like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 4G LTE, they can leverage the work done with Ubuntu on laptops,” said Jon Melamut, Operations Vice President at Canonical. “If someone wants to pull Facebook, Twitter, and other services together, like synchronizing files with cloud-based services, it’s already been done in Ubuntu. That will speed time to market.”

While there’s a lot of activity around GENIVI, the consortium’s efforts to become a de facto standard face stiff competition. Operating systems from Microsoft and QNX Software Systems are already seeing use in infotainment systems, and Google’s Android is also seeing some acceptance.

These suppliers also tout their close links to consumer products. For example, QNX managers feel that last year’s acquisition of QNX by Blackberry creator RIM will provide deeper insight into the products being brought into cars. That will help them shorten development times.

“Designers are focusing more on connectivity with smart phones, so being acquired by RIM is good timing because they understand Bluetooth and other consumer protocols,” said Andy Gryc, Automotive Product Marketing Manager at QNX. “Instead of a three-year life cycle, automakers are now looking at a 13-14 month design cycle.”

Microsoft has parlayed its versatility in consumer technologies, particularly its links to voice-recognition providers. Ford and Hyundai have both partnered with the OS giant. The QNX Car application environment has 50 supporters.

The GENIVI Alliance has more than 100 members, but GENIVI software and certification programs are still being developed. It will still be a few years before GENIVI-compliant systems hit the showroom floor.

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