General Manager and Editorial Director,
Techstrong Group

“I’m in Love with My Car,” recorded by the band Queen is one of those classic rock anthems that sums up the relationship many individuals have with the vehicles they drive. But few appreciate how long it takes to actually build one these days. There are now hundreds of processors in a modern car that, in part, explains why there is a shortage of new cars available almost a year after the COVID-19 pandemic made the raw materials for building processors scarce.

While processor shortages eventually will subside, there’s a new effort being launched by The Eclipse Foundation to form a working group to create standards for building software-defined vehicles using open source software.

Backed by Bosch, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Red Hat, SUSE, EPAM Systems and ETAS, The Eclipse Foundation is putting out a “call to action” for all parties interested in creating standards for software-defined vehicles. The goal is to build the foundation of an open ecosystem for deploying, configuring and monitoring vehicle software in a secure and safe way, says Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation.

Vehicle manufacturers then will be able to devote more resources to differentiating the vehicle experience instead of investing in technologies that provide little in the way of differentiated value, such as operating systems, middleware or communication protocols.

This is a big idea that could be applied more broadly. There’s no reason a wide range of platforms based on various types of embedded systems couldn’t follow a similar innovation path. Many organizations today spend an inordinate amount of time and money reinventing the same core components. The open source community has already shown how consortiums can spur innovation by enabling multiple companies to contribute code to advance core technologies. While critical to the overall advancement of software, those projects typically focus on platforms that enable others to build more robust applications faster. Kubernetes, for example, is really a platform for building other platforms.

Digital CxOs need to ask themselves how much time, money and effort their organization is pouring into an enabling technology that the organization not only has to build but also maintain. Rather than multiple companies reinventing the same wheel, so to speak, it makes more financial sense for organizations to contribute enabling technology to a consortium or replace their internally developed intellectual property with open source software that a larger community is committed to investing in and, most importantly from a cost perspective, willing to support.

It may be a while before anything that approaches a software-defined vehicle rolls down a manufacturing line. However, it’s apparent open source is now about a lot more than simply providing organizations with a free version of a commercial IT platform. Open source projects today have become the primary “vehicle” for driving innovation at scale. That doesn’t mean developers won’t be able to add unique value by leveraging open source technologies, but it does mean a reduction in the total cost of driving innovation.

Over time, organizations that understand this dynamic will outpace rivals that are overly dependent on commercial software to compete. There will be plenty of time when a commercial application makes a lot of sense to license. However, chances are, if you look past the first layer of code, you’ll find a lot of enabling open source software that is being used to reduce the total cost of building that application. The challenge and the opportunity now are to apply that model beyond building just applications.