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The rise of Linux in in-vehicle infotainment (IVI)

Jul 24, 2013 — by Eric Brown 11,500 views

[Updated July 25] — A Linux Foundation executive revealed that the 2014 Toyota Lexus IS is the second major automobile to offer an in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system based on Linux. Meanwhile, ABI Research projects that Linux will quickly grow to represent 20 percent of automotive computers by 2018, pulling closer to Microsoft behind industry-leading QNX.

Since the GENIVI Foundation was launched in 2009 to foster standardization on automotive computers built on open source Linux, the move toward Linux-based IVI and connected automotive telematics systems has been halting. Now, however, a second car manufacturer — Toyota — is introducing a Linux IVI system, according to the Linux Foundation.

Last year, GM’s Cadillac division released a Debian Linux-based Cadillac User Experience (CUE) IVI system, initially built into the Cadillac XTS and now also available in the Cadillac SRX. GM’s Cadillac CUE was built by GENIVI Alliance members MontaVista Software and Bosch and uses similar code, but is not listed as compliant with the open GENIVI spec.


2014 Cadillac XTS CUE IVI system
(click image to enlarge)


Yesterday, Rudolf Streif, Director of Embedded Solutions with the Linux Foundation and the Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) working group, outed Toyota’s 2014 Lexus IS luxury sedan as being the second major car brand to offer a Linux-based IVI navigation system. Toyota does not mention Linux in its promotion for the Lexus IS, which appears to have recently gone on sale. It does, however, tout features like smartphone interconnectivity, 3D map displays, and blind spot monitors, as well as automotive features like new styling and suspension.

Toyota’s 2014 Lexus IS has a Linux-based IVI system


Streif offered no tech details on the sedan’s inner tuxification, mentioning it in passing in his announcement for the Linux Foundation’s 3rd Annual Automotive Linux Summit, to be held Oct. 24-25, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Toyota is a foundational member of the AGL, although not, like GM, a member of GENIVI (see farther below for details).

ABI sees growing role for Linux in automotive

According to a report released this week by ABI, the total number of “OEM-installed connected car telematics systems,” which include IVI systems, will increase from around 7.8 million at the end of 2012 to 46.8 million units by the end of 2018. Currently, BlackBerry’s QNX Software and Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Automotive together account for around 75 to 80 percent of the market, says ABI.

According to the ABI study, over the next 15 years, Linux will be the fastest growing platform in automotive computers, achieving 20 percent share by 2018. Linux “will slowly displace Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Automotive in importance,” predicts the research firm, although it’s unclear whether it will surpass Windows by 2018 or later.

Earlier this year, Microsoft received something of a blow when its major partner Ford said it was releasing the proprietary source code for Ford’s Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive based Sync platform to GENIVI. Ford is establishing an open-source GENIVI project called SmartPhoneLink based on Sync that will contain the code and documentation necessary to implement its AppLink software into any vehicle’s IVI system for iOS  and Android devices. The SmartPhoneLink code will be available on Linux and QNX in addition to Windows Embedded.

“The automotive industry is set for a number of dramatic paradigm shifts,” stated ABI principal analyst, Gareth Owen. “The adoption of open source platforms, such as GENIVI is just one example. In this regard, the automotive industry mirrors trends in mobile.”

Both QNX and Microsoft have responded to the open source trend, but QNX has gone farther in opening its platform, suggests ABI. QNX developers “can now tap into established and innovative mobile-developer eco-systems for Android, HTML5, and Qt 5 apps,” stated Owen. “With the pace of change in automotive still being quite slow, the mid-term future for QNX still looks bright. Plus QNX has the important advantage of having a tried and tested optimized solution. Hence, QNX is still an attractive solution for a risk-averse automotive industry.”

GENIVI leads open source IVI efforts

Platforms based on GENIVI and other Linux and Android platforms are underway at numerous first- and second-tier automotive system providers. The fact that Linux has so far appeared in only two IVI systems in three car models reflects how slowly the complex automotive business moves.

The glacial aspect of automotive development is tied in part to the emphasis on safety. As car computers increasingly do double duty, with navigation and infotainment on the one hand and increasingly complex in-car telematics on the other, their development must proceed more slowly than with a consumer electronics device.

Yet, slow time to market is a problem with IVI, as the navigation and IVI systems launched today are often years behind similar functionality found on consumers’ smartphones and tablets. It is the very sluggishness of the industry that has inspired automakers to try out open source Linux solutions. With the time-saving advantage of reusable open source code, automotive suppliers can respond to new trends and reach market more quickly, while also saving money on the licensing fees they would pay to a QNX or Microsoft.

One challenge with open source, however, is the need to track down and post source code for open-source components in order to avoid potential litigation. This challenge, along with the benefits that can be provided by standardization, is one reason why vendors are increasingly (PDF download) building systems based on the GENIVI Alliance spec. By using GENIVI code, vendors can be more secure that all licensing issues have been vetted.

Although the GENIVI Alliance has yet to claim a single shipping automobile that has pre-installed equipment registered as compliant, a comment to this post by GENIVI Community Manager Jeremiah Foster of Pelagicore informs us that “a 2013 production vehicle that is GENIVI compliant is coming from a GENIVI member and there are more in the pipeline, both in the form of head units and likely rear seat entertainment systems.”

GENEVI’s membership roster includes GM, Honda, BMW, Volvo, Hyundai, Renault, Peugeot, and Nissan, among others. Some 23 first-tier automotive equipment providers have signed up with the GENIVI Foundation, as well as dozens of other technology companies, including ARM and Intel. Major Linux software vendors are invested in GENIVI, including Canonical (Ubuntu) Wind River, and Mentor Graphics, which earlier this year acquired MontaVista’s GENIVI/IVI business.

Earlier this month, ABI Research released a related set of findings projecting that GENIVI- and MirrorLink-compliant car connected automotive infotainment systems will increase from around 10,000 units at the end of 2012 to 27.9 million in by the end of 2018. The findings were limited to North America, Western Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region.

Mirrorlink supports most popular smartphones and tablets


Like the GENIVI Alliance, the Car Connectivity Consortium’s newer MirrorLink is an open standard. However, it’s not limited to Linux, and it’s focused primarily on standardizing connections between automotive systems and mobile devices, as opposed to establishing the entire stack. The goal is to enable all applications found on a connected smartphone or tablet to be mirrored on the IVI display. The CCC shares many members in common with GENIVI, including GM, Honda, and Hyundai, and also includes manufacturers like Toyota and Volkswagon.

GENIVI’s open source baseline code, which does not in itself indicate compliance, moves upstream to projects like Tizen, MeeGo, Ubuntu, and Yocto. Tizen is the only current reference platform for the Linux Foundation’s relatively new Automotive Grade Linux working group. AGL counts GENIVI members Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan among its members, as well as Toyota.

It’s unclear whether Toyota’s Lexus IS integrates any AGL-related technology. It’s also uncertain to what extent AGL is a facilitator or a rival to GENIVI. In April, AGL chair Streif told LinuxUser that the first AGL spec would be GENIVI compliant. Streif also said he envisions AGL becoming more of a “community distribution” like Debian or Fedora that will provide reference platforms for other GENIVI-related projects.

Android flying under the radar

If the relationship between GENIVI, AGL, MirrorLink, and other open automotive efforts is still unclear, the growing presence of Android in automotive muddies the waters even more. ABI did not break out Android’s market share, which is presumably slim and built into the Linux figures. Earlier this year, however, ABI said that Android was gaining momentum in automotive with systems such as the Renault (R-Link), which will be built into its New Clio and ZOE electric car. Another GENIVI member — Volvo — uses Android in its Sensus Connected Touch platform based on Parrot’s Asteroid Smart system.

Android has both pros and cons in automotive. Perhaps its biggest advantages are its huge app library, its advanced GUI, and the fact that it also runs on the vast majority of smartphones.

Android suffers compared to embedded Linux platforms in telematics and safety integration, however. In addition, some vendors worry that Android is less open than embedded Linux, and some fear Google could push it in a more proprietary direction. Android appears to have more momentum in after-market IVI sales, as in the Parrot system, or in other pure infotainment and navigation systems kept separate from mission-critical operations. Many envision hybrid Linux/Android platforms, with Linux handling telematics.

More information on ABI’s study and its Automotive Infotainment Research Service may be found at this ABI Research page on Automotive Operating Systems. Also this week, Forrester released a report on connected cars, but offered no public estimates on OS trends.

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One response to “The rise of Linux in in-vehicle infotainment (IVI)”

  1. Jeremiah says:


    Thanks for the article on Linux in cars, quite a scoop you got on the Lexus getting a Linux IVI system!

    I wanted to mention a couple things about GENIVI since I’m the GENIVI Community Manager and part of my job is to discuss GENIVI with everyone in the community in forums like this. I wanted to say that MeeGo and Tizen are, or have been, registered as GENIVI compliant. You can see all the compliant products here;

    GENIVI however does not have one reference system to rule them all. In fact, GENIVI now releases our “reference” systems, which we call baselines, into the open:

    The baselines are still not really reference systems per se, they represent a GENIVI compliant system at a given point in time, i.e. a new release. While they do not go through the GENIVI compliance process, they contain all the software a GENIVI compliant system would need, so they are a good base to start from. With the release of the baselines, GENIVI is now fully open source. All of GENIVI’s code is either in GENIVI git repos ( or upstream and GENIVI complies fully with all the Open Source licenses in the stack by ensuring that all sources are available with the baselines. I can confidently say GENIVI is fully Open Source.

    You’re right that license issues can be tricky and GENIVI takes licensing very seriously. We’ve worked very hard to determine the right license type that both ensures openness and promotes adherence to strict regulations regarding vehicle safety. In addition, GENIVI has a number of legal people who are members who have extensive Open Source and automotive backgrounds. For car companies being a GENIVI member helps mitigate a lot of risk, perceived or otherwise.

    There is a 2013 production vehicle that is GENIVI compliant coming from a GENIVI member and there are more in the pipeline, both in the form of head units and likely rear seat entertainment systems.

    Fasten your seatbelt! This is gonna be a speedy trip to Linux land! :-)

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