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Will GENIVI speed up telematics development?

Susan Kuchinskas looks at how GENIVI members are adapting to open-source methodology and culture

In June, the GENIVI Alliance announced that Honda had joined the roster of participating OEMS, while Jaguar Land Rover upgraded its membership to the Charter level. Total membership for the two-and-a-half-year-old group now stands at 123. But support for GENIVI on the business level is far from universal. Toyota, not a member of GENIVI, joined the Linux Foundation instead. And GM, one of the founders of the organization, which aims to create an open standard for automotive infotainment, seems to be backing off.

Still, progress continues on a pace with other standards organizations. A compliance specification is expected in early August. The compliance spec will let suppliers test their software stacks in order to validate claims of GENIVI compliance to suit automakers' requirements.

The compliance spec is a key part of the alliance's work, according to Vishnu Muralidharan, an industry analyst for Frost and Sullivan: "GENIVI will act as a compliance organization. The alliance wants to give freedom to every company to come up with solutions and, at same the time, maintain control of compliance. Any company that wants to develop a solution that's classified as GENEVI compliant will have to undergo a series of tests conducted by the association."

According to Joel Hoffmann, business strategist for Intel's Automotive Solutions Division and marketing chair and board member of GENIVI, "OEMs see the biggest value in coming to an agreement to use that specification consistently in cost reduction and efficiencies, obtained by using some of the development work performed by the alliance.” It also makes it possible for suppliers to re-use their work, Hoffmann argues, since all GENIVI automakers would request the same basic set of requirements. (For more on GENIVI and open innovation, see Telematics and app development: The advantages of open innovation and Telematics software: How to cut development costs.)

The open-source culture

Today, telematics companies working with GENIVI hope to pay themselves forward with their support. For example, Renesas has created a GENIVI reference platform for its R-Car platform. The R-Car product line provides a system-on-a-chip with two domains: one for applications, running the infotainment system provider's preferred OS (which could include GENIVI), and a real-time domain tailored for quick-booting the CAM and hardware such as the backup camera.

"We have a team in California that worked with the GENIVI stack and developed on top of that a complete HMI navigation system as a proof of concept," says Carlos Garcia-Sierra, senior segment marketing manager for infotainment for Renesas. He adds that his company has also worked with some customers to develop solutions.

One of the biggest challenges GENIVI faces, according to Hoffmann, is that the auto industry is not familiar with open-source methodology and culture. Reassuring members that the work they contribute is going to be reusable without giving up any of their intellectual property will be key. "They have to learn—and it does take time—that there's a trust factor in contributing,” Hoffman says. The pay-it-forward model, where you make a contribution and it comes back to you from enhancements from others, is relatively foreign to suppliers.

Another challenge for GENIVI could be OEMs' fears about customer service. Noting that GM seemed able to get its MyLink on the market quickly with Panasonic and QNX, Hoffmann asks: "When it comes to quick turnarounds or crises, who will you turn to on the GENIVI side of things?” On the QNX and Microsoft side, there is a well-defined developer community. If that fails, Hoffmann points out, you can turn to the software vendor.

Experimenting with GENIVI

This same fear was, of course, present in the early days of the Linux operating system for the PC, but companies like Red Hat profited hugely by providing support and services. Canonical, the company that leads development of the Ubuntu version of Linux, said it would build a new GENIVI-compliant version for infotainment called Ubuntu IVI Remix. Canonical provides engineering, online and professional services for Ubuntu users, and automotive could provide a lucrative new vertical for the company.

Roger Lanctot of Strategy Analytics acknowledges the potential cost-savings, although he notes that proprietary platforms such as QNX will remain strongly competitive. "The amount of code in cars has increased to such a degree that the car makers can't keep up, and their need to reduce costs is severe, which is why they've been able to get significant participation," Lanctot says. He adds that the number of areas that can be standardized is substantial.

But in the five or so years before he estimates GENIVI will hit the road, development environments for other OS and platforms will also continue to evolve. "Increasingly, there are applications for creating applications," Lanctot says. “Those doing development outside the Linux community are refining tools for development in Windows embedded or QNX or plain old Linux."

Muralidharan agrees that GENIVI won't replace other embedded operating systems. Every OEM will experiment with GENIVI in order to understand how best to implement the new solution and find out the benefits in real-world situations. "That needs to be proven out still," he says. "The first generation of products to come out will be very closely watched."

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor TU.

For more on GENIVI and Linux, join the sector’s other key players at Telematics Munich 2011 on November 9-10 in Munich and Content & App for Automotive Europe 2012 in May 2012 in Germany.

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