ABI reports on automotive operating system software

May 12, 2005
The rapid increase in features and functions inside vehicles points to the need for new operating system software, according to a new report from ABI Research.

The rapid increase in features and functions inside vehicles points to the need for new operating system software, according to a new report from ABI Research “The wealth of functionality that has reached the automotive interior, from entertainment center to telematics connector to navigation device, has changed the way automakers are forced to approach software,” said senior analyst Dan Benjamin.

Vehicles often use dedicated systems for each function, Benjamin added, but the new trend will be for automotive OEMs to ship just one dashboard unit that handles all functions, and a fully functional operating system will be required to run that hardware.

"What we see happening is a personal computer in the car," he noted. "The big difference is that in the automotive environment it is embedded: the user should never be aware of the OS, only the application."

Operating system decisions made by automakers and tier ones are affected by the total costs associated with a platform, available middleware and application layer software, and the development tools associated with a particular OS, according to the report.

“Pre-developed applications can be both a blessing and a curse, as the benefits resulting from reduced product development time can eliminate the uniqueness and novelty that may be desired by certain OEMs,” Benjamin suggested. “Moreover, certain OS's are more robust in their support of Digital Rights Management, which is proving to be a competitive factor for media playback.”

One of the most interesting industry issues, in Benjamin’s view, is the vast difference between OS's on licensing and fees. “The automotive industry is used to dealing with familiar vendors and cost structures; however, there are new players and new business models.” Microsoft, for example, is offering software for the automotive environment, and open-source software such as Linux offers a royalty-free option. “The coming years will be vital in seeing if either can expand its presence in the automotive environment,” Benjamin predicted.

Another of ABI’s reports on automotive technology reveals a trend toward the Bluetooth personal networking standard for links from a driver’s cell phone to telematics and navigation systems, and a likelihood that dedicated short range communications (DSRC) and radio frequency identification (RFID) will be used for vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

"The automotive industry regards Bluetooth as an acceptable compromise because users get their network connectivity, while automakers do not have to deal with installing costly cellular radios, or the hassles of managing customer accounts or dealing with wireless carriers" Benjamin suggested.

Benjamin said the recent decision by the Bluetooth special interest group (SIG) to work with the developers of ultrawideband (UWB) technology could drastically increase the total bandwidth available for Bluetooth devices, but he added, “The Bluetooth profiles and network stacks could easily be used to limit the amount of development needed for new devices, since Bluetooth and UWB target the same market for short range cable replacement. The downside is that backwards compatibility will be limited. Bluetooth implementing UWB could serve to limit interest in wireless USB, which also uses UWB as an air interface and targets a similar market, but is still very much unsettled with regard to software and authentication."

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication is integral for the next generation of telematics and safety systems, according to Benjamin. His report predicts that next-generation collision avoidance systems and intelligent traffic systems will make use of DSRC and RFID for direct vehicle-to-vehicle communications. DSRC, which is based on 802.11, also uses RFID technology to allow vehicles to broadcast in dedicated spectrum, and can be used for telemetry data, identification, commerce, and even Internet access, once infrastructure is in place. “This expands the usefulness of conventional RFID-based applications beyond simple toll collection and commerce, toward highly interactive commerce, vehicle tracking and data telemetry,” Benjamin said.

Other reports from ABI Research discuss telematics deployment trends in Japan, Korea and Europe.

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