6 minute read


Open Source Software (OSS) is catching on across industry verticals, so also in Automotive. Me and Astor Nummelin Carlberg recently published a vision paper outlining the current state and future potential for OSS in Automotive through in-depth interviews with leaders from the industry, including both international manufacturers and suppliers. The study was commissioned by the Eclipse Software Defined Vehicle (SDV) working group and recently discussed at the European Commission’s Workshop on Open Source key areas for Digital Autonomy.

The report will be presented in further detail at Eclipse SDV Communtiy Days later this Spring. Below are some key takeaways and reflections from the study in the meantime.

OSS is an established part of company strategies

  • OSS is today en established part on among companies in the industry, anchored in business, software, IT and product strategies. As the sector becomes increasingly software-centric, companies acknowledge that collaboration on common infrastructure and platforms expedites innovation, boosts development efficiency, and enhances product quality and safety.

Adoption of OSS is higher outside than inside the vehicle

  • The embrace of OSS finds greater resonance in applications outside vehicles than inside them. The limited adoption within vehicles is primarily due to the stringent functional safety standards that demand rigorous software development processes, a benchmark that many, but not all, OSS initiatives often fall short of.

Centralisation of in-vehicle computing

  • The automotive industry is moving towards a centralised computing architecture, in contrast to the current norm of highly decentralised structures in vehicles. Presently, most cars come with 150-250 ECUs, and trucks around 90. Notable exceptions, like Tesla, employ just 2-3 main computing units, suggesting a potential direction for future computing architecture.

Working towards a common yet decoupled SDV platform

  • The automotive industry is moving towards establishing a unified yet decoupled SDV platform, expected to comprise exchangeable and interoperable building blocks, along with commonly defined interfaces and architectural design. This platform should seamlessly integrate with multiple ECUs, regardless of their quantity, and extend connectivity to cloud services. Currently, there isn’t a singular, universally-adopted platform.

Development ongoing but slow-paced

  • Predictions about the establishment of a common SDV platform diverge within industry circles. Some experts, including OEM-representatives, forecast a timeline stretching between 5 to 20 years. This long trajectory is only anticipated to be shortened if a notable industry player successfully crafts, open-sources, and then institutes its platform as the benchmark across the industry.

New technologies driving the transition

  • As electric vehicles and autonomous driving continue to rise in prominence, software complexity intensifies. While electrification simplifies certain aspects of engines, the convergence of electrification, autonomous driving, connectivity, and the transition towards service-oriented models amplifies technological challenges. These multifaceted issues necessitate broad OSS collaboration, as they surpass the capacity of individual companies to tackle alone. Consequently, OSS collaboration becomes not only an industry-wide imperative but also arguably a challenge for the EU as a whole.

Transitioning from hardware to software-centric

  • The automotive industry is shifting from a hardware-centric to a software-focused model, driven by advancements such as autonomous driving and electrification. However, this transition is hindered by cultural legacies, and the pace of innovation in software is impeded by resistance to open collaboration through OSS.

Culture, safety regulation, legacy tech and vehicle lifespan slowing down the transition

  • The automotive industry faces considerable inertia due to its deeply entrenched cultural legacy. This transition will likely be more prolonged compared to sectors due to several factors. Vehicles are safety-critical products with extended life spans lasting over a decade, and the automotive domain itself is structurally intricate, with a historical backdrop spanning over a century. This long-standing conservative and competitive nature impedes the rapid adoption and collaboration on OSS, resulting in the sector lagging behind others in this regard.

Knowledge and capacity needed to enable change

  • Enhancing internal skills and knowledge is crucial for accelerating the cultural and software evolution in the automotive industry. Both engineering teams and management require training and empowerment, particularly in actively engaging with OSS projects and their corresponding communities.

The challenge of availability and attraction of skilled personnel

  • A robust engagement in OSS offers the additional benefit of addressing skills challenges in the automotive industry. Acquiring and retaining skilled engineers and managers is paramount for the evolution towards software-defined vehicles (SDVs). A company’s OSS capacity and reputation play different roles in talent attraction. On the one hand, it attracts the staff who want to work with cutting-edge technology. On the other hand, it is a way to up-skill engineers already employed within the organisation.

OSPOs: Internal support and processes for OSS adoption and culture

  • Leveraging OSS strategically is essential for companies to handle the complexity and software-centric shifts in the automotive industry due to technological advancements. Companies building Open Source Program Offices (OSPOs) are central to this effort, as they establish the necessary capacity, attract the required talent, and nurture an open-source-centric culture within organisations.

Hierarchical supplier structure incompatible with interdependent systems and actors

  • The prevailing hierarchical supply chain model in the automotive industry is increasingly becoming an impediment to the intricate and interconnected nature of modern vehicle systems. There’s a growing need for a transition from isolated tiers to integrated ecosystems, where collaboration and shared responsibility are paramount.

Moving to an ecosystem structure through active collaborations

  • The automotive industry is navigating towards an ecosystem-focused structure, as evidenced by a surge in collaborations aimed at developing common ‘standards’ and foundational building blocks. While the initial intent behind these collaborations is to design individual components, the overarching goal is a harmonised solution for SDVs.

Government facilitation and funding as a driver for change

  • Governments and public institutions, with their facilitative role and funding capacities, have the potential to significantly influence and accelerate the transformation of the automotive industry. Interviewees underscored the pivotal role of entities like the European Commission, which can provide a neutral environment, bolstered by their research resources, to facilitate discussions among key industry stakeholders, such as OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. Such neutral platforms can ease industry politics and foster higher-level discourses, mitigating competitive tensions.

OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers pushing and pulling each other

  • Tier 1 suppliers play a pivotal role in driving OSS adoption and collaboration in the automotive industry. However, as OEMs seek greater control over their software stack and align with upcoming regulations, they too are progressively embracing OSS. This indicates a comprehensive maturation in the industry’s digital transformation towards a unified SDV platform.

Strategic partnerships as a means of complementing internal capabilities

  • Strategic alliances with tech giants are crucial for automotive entities due to the inherent limitations in their in-house technical capabilities and expertise. Notably, Google’s Android Automotive platform serves as a recurring example of this trend. However, a significant concern among several stakeholders is the looming threat of over-dependence on singular platform providers.

Identifying and collaborating on commodity technology

  • There is an industry-wide push for collaboration on non-differentiating aspects of SDV technology. Establishing standardised interfaces and common building blocks is seen as a way to foster innovation and resource efficiency. By utilising tested solutions, organisations can concentrate on developing their unique selling points.

Functional safety certification and OSS development

  • Functional safety standards require stringent development processes for automotive software, a criterion many OSS projects do not meet, according to several interviewees. As a result, beyond exceptions like infotainment systems employing Android Automotive or Automotive Grade Linux, the application of OSS components is largely restricted. However, anticipation is growing around imminent launches of functional safety-certified Linux-based operating systems and associated middleware.

Ensuring the health and sustainability of the OSS supply chain

  • The assurance of safety and security through OSS necessitates a comprehensive understanding and proactive management. For the benefit of systems longevity, which often exceeds a decade in the automotive industry, it is imperative for OSS projects to be actively sustained. This demands prolonged commitment and investment from the automotive industry.

Maintaining digital sovereignty and improving competitiveness at the same time

  • All participants highlighted the urgency for future SDV platforms to be open, enabling entities to make informed technical design and sourcing decisions that align with regional laws, requirements, and values. As global regionalisation deepens, achieving “digital sovereignty” or technical independence is paramount, but it has a complex relationship with increasing the automotive industry’s competitiveness.