SAN JOSE, Calif. Intel and Wind River Systems have teamed up to create a Linux/x86 platform for car electronics, which will debut at the Telematics Detroit 2008 conference today (May 20). The offering is based on Intel's low-power Atom processor and a new variant of Wind River's embedded Linux.
The duo hopes to ride the trend of packing more consumer-electronics features, including global positioning systems, into cars. However, the two must fight concerns among car makers about open source, as well as fend off a variety of entrenched chip makers, including Freescale, NXP, Renesas and STMicroelectronics.
Wind River announced that its Linux Platform for Infotainment, optimized for Intel's Atom, should be available in August. It will include speech-recognition and speech-to-text software from Nuance Communications, Bluetooth and noise reduction from Parrot, music management from Gracenote, networking from SMSC and DVD playback from Corel.
The software will provide connectivity with Apple iPods and support 3D interfaces. It will also support the Controller Area Network and Media-Oriented Systems Transport buses used to link electronics in many cars.
Wind River will make the code available as open source via a new automotive section of the Moblin.org open-source group Intel helped create to promote Linux for mobile, Internet devices. Delphi Electronics said it will use the software.
"We are adopting the [software] to help speed up and expand the innovation curve of Delphi's next-generation entertainment and communications platform," said Robert W. Schumacher, general director of advanced products and business development at Delphi, speaking in a prepared statement.
"A standard Linux-based infotainment platform for the automotive industry breaks down the silos of adjacent industries, bringing together feature sets like mobile handsets, automotive and personal devices at a faster pace. [It also] helps to lower costs," added Schumacher.
Wind River said other companies have expressed support for its strategy, including BMW Group, Bosch and Magneti Marelli.
"Not only will this accelerate the pace at which new and compelling automotive applications are developed, we believe this will also allow new business models to emerge in the infotainment market," said John Bruggeman, chief marketing officer at Wind River in the press statement.
The product offering is timely, but will face stiff challenges gaining acceptance, said Thilo Koslowski, a vice president of research for Gartner Inc., who is speaking at the telematics event. To date, car companies mainly have used proprietary software rather than Linux, although Microsoft and QNX have made inroads with their offerings.
"The [Linux] concept is great, but car companies are extremely cautious about using anything their competitors can leverage and anything that might have any reliability issues," said Koslowski.
"Linux is not used widely in the automotive industry today, but we are in a stage where a lot of new devices and content are coming into the car and they need the interfaces to make this happen smoothly," he added.
Gartner predicts the number of cars with some form of built-in telematics communications system will rise from about 7.9 million in 2007 to 57 million in 2012. The number of portable GPS systems plugged into cars will soar to 112 million by 2012, Koslowski added.
"The biggest technical challenge is that there is no one network technology that gives the complete coverage car makers need," he said.
Microsoft and QNX are gaining traction with car makers using their operating systems to deliver infotainment services. Hyundai and Fiat said they will use Microsoft Auto software, and Ford is already selling cars that use it in a so-called Synch system.
"Much of the automotive market is playing catch-up, with many car makers this year seeking to upgrade their infotainment systems to match Ford's Synch technology," said Richard Robinson, principal analyst for automotive electronics at iSuppli, speaking in a recent report.
Robinson estimates chip makers saw 18 percent growth in the market for car infotainment systems in 2007. STMicroelectronics and NXP Semiconductors, the top two vendors in the sector, accounted for nearly a quarter of the business, according to the market watcher.
Chip revenue in car infotainment systems should rise another 8.5 percent in 2008, iSuppli predicts. The market for portable navigation systems, the fastest growing part of the segment, is slowing from a 54 percent increase last year to 18 percent in 2008, due in part to heavy cost cutting, iSuppli said.
Robinson also predicted that the merger of Sirius and XM Radio could help bolster flat sales of satellite car radio chips from suppliers such as STMicro and Infineon. He expects chip makers to come up with new silicon that can handle either format.
Overall, iSuppli expects combined OEM and aftermarket revenue for automotive infotainment systems to hit $39.8 billion in 2008, up 7.9 percent from $36.98 billion in 2007.