Recently, Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) released the 10th version of its unified code base (UCB) for automakers, codenamed “Jumping Jellyfish.” Developed through a joint effort by dozens of member companies, the AGL Unified Code Base (UCB) is an open source software platform for infotainment, telematics, and instrument cluster applications.
“The AGL platform is Yocto-based, and for Jumping Jellyfish, we updated to Yocto’s first Long Term Support (LTS) release named Dunfell,” said Dan Cauchy, Executive Director of Automotive Grade Linux at the Linux Foundation. “This is significant as it means the Yocto Project will provide patches, fixes, and updates for an extended period of time, something that is essential for automotive systems, which have a longer life cycle than many other embedded Linux applications.”
For people familiar with AGL and/or the Linux world, the quote above will make sense. For the rest of us, I’ll give some more background information.
Linux is an operating system like Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X. While it’s not terribly common for consumer-facing desktops and laptops, we use Linux every day. Have an Android phone? It runs a version of Linux. Chromebook? That’s Linux, too. Most web servers (including CleanTechnica‘s servers) run on Linux, so you’re using Linux to read this. Unlike Windows or OS X, the source code for Linux operating systems is available for anybody to review and modify as they see fit, which makes it ideal for many custom uses.
Linux also comes in many “flavors” or distributions, commonly called “distros” in the Linux community. Because anyone can make their own version of it, many people have, and some versions have massive volunteer and/or professional teams maintaining their kind of Linux. Ubuntu Linux is a common desktop distro, and Android was made by Google for mobile devices (which was, in turn, modified by phone manufacturers). Other common distros include Debian (Ubuntu is a version of Debian), Arch, Fedora, Qubes, Mandriva, and many, many others.
Another advantage of Linux is that you can run only what you need, so it can work well on systems with less resources, including embedded systems, or small computers built into other products like cars. You can optimize it to do a few things really well instead of being ready to do things it will never do, and that saves resources.
Tesla vehicles use a version of Linux, but they don’t use AGL. At some point, owners have found that it uses a version of Ubuntu Linux, but we don’t know if that’s changed, or how much it really has in common with other versions of Ubuntu.
Many other manufacturers work together and with the Linux Foundation, suppliers, and tech companies on Automotive Grade Linux. By not having to build a new version of Linux from scratch, each manufacturer saves on costs and can get products to market faster. By using Linux, they have the ability to make customizations themselves as needed as well, but have a good automotive-optimized starting point. While they started with infotainment systems, AGL is now being used for other automotive applications, including instrument cluster, heads-up-display (HUD), telematics/ connected car, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), functional safety, and autonomous driving systems.
The other advantage to working together is that updates, bug fixes, security, and other aspects of maintaining the code are also less of a burden on each manufacturer of cars or computers in cars. For that reason, they decided to start basing the AGL code base on the Yocto Project, so now there are even more developers and embedded systems manufacturers working together on improving things.
On the other hand, having everyone use the same version of Linux could have downsides.
While Linux (and its variants) tend to be very stable and secure, something as important as ADAS systems, and eventually self-driving cars, are going to be a big target for hackers, and a shared code base may end up meaning that vulnerabilities found in one car will be shared by most others. While nobody should rely strictly on security through obscurity, it’s still a factor that plays against hackers in the real world. By doing things differently, manufacturers like Tesla may be a smaller target in the future.
Whichever approach a manufacturer goes with, security is going to be extremely important.
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