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Android vs Linux in automotive apps: a role for each?

Mar 20, 2013 — by Guest Contributor 2,288 views

In this guest column, Kamran Shah, director of marketing at Mentor Graphics, examines the tradeoffs between embedded Linux and Android for automotive systems including in-vehicle “infotainment” (IVI) devices. Is one better suited than the other, or does each have a distinct role to play?

Making use of Android in automotive systems including infotainment
by Kamran Shah

The role of Android as an alternative to embedded Linux has been a subject of quite a bit of discussion recently. As the use of open source software in automotive gains momentum there are differing opinions on the subject of using Android, Linux or both. The Linux Foundation recently wrote a post summarizing a discussion during a panel at the Android Builders Summit as well as some interviews from a number of experts. The post attempts to define Android vs. Embedded Linux and brings up some interesting points on the subject.


In the specific context of automotive infotainment systems I was curious about the trade-offs and use cases, so I sat down for a chat with Nedeljko (“Ned”) Miljevic to get his ideas on the use of Android. Ned joined our team recently as part of our acquisition of the Automotive Business unit from MontaVista. As a result of that conversation Ned wrote up his current assessment, which I’m summarizing below.

The use of Android in Automotive systems has a number of perceived advantages, there are also some challenges based on the use cases Android is applied to that must be addressed by Tier 1 suppliers and OEMs using Android.

Summary of Android benefits for IVI

Some of advantages frequently sited for the use of Android in IVI systems include:

  • A rapid consumer electronics based release cadence
  • A user experience validated in the consumer market
  • The ability to easily port to new devices
  • A vibrant ecosystem of developers, applications and app stores

Summary of challenges for Android in IVI

Of course nothing really comes for free, so let’s list some of the challenges:

  • A lack of automotive interfaces, such as those needed for automotive buses
  • Effectively handling the automotive power environment and situations including under-voltages
  • Managing the different priorities needed for audio and video for safety requirements
  • An unclear and changing IP licensing and patent landscape
  • Meeting the differing performance, boot time, and responsiveness needs of automotive versus consumer electronics
  • Security vulnerabilities

Is there a middle ground?

Each of these benefits and challenges is worthy of its own post or paper, but one of the things Ned brought up is that today some form of coexistence may be the best solution. In this scenario, Android exists together with another operating system (like Linux), which handles the more safety oriented domain. This approach keeps the core infotainment system isolated and controlled, while bringing many of the advantages of Android listed above into the car, including extending the consumer electronics world into the IVI experience.

We’ll explore all these topics in more detail soon, and also technical approaches such as virtualization and the use of Linux containers, which can be used to implement a multi-domain system that combines Android and Linux. While we work on writing that information up you can also learn a little today about making use of Linux containers in Andrew Patterson’s presentation, Implementing a GENIVI compliant IVI system.

About the author: Kamran Shah is Director of Marketing at Mentor Graphics. Nedeljko Miljevic, a product manager at Mentor Graphics, focuses on automotive solutions based on open source software, including Linux and Android; he is also a member of the GENIVI Alliance Compliance group.


(Note: The contents of this post originally appeared on the Mentor Graphics Embedded Software Blog, and have been reproduced by with permission.)

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