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Red Hat has announced plans to create a new Linux-based operating system for the automotive industry. With this push, the enterprise-focused open source software company is touting safety and continuous certification as core selling points.

Red Hat, which IBM acquired for $34 billion in 2018, is already well known for its enterprise-grade Linux distribution, which will serve as the basis of its new platform for road vehicles. For the initiative, Red Hat has partnered with Exida, a company that specializes in functional safety and product certification, to provide ongoing certifications spanning a range of applications, from “infotainment to driver operations,” according to a press release.

Red Hat said it’s working with Exida to achieve ISO 26262 certification, the global standard governing functional safety in road vehicles.

It’s worth noting that Linux is already being used in the automotive industry. Tesla uses its own flavor of Linux in its vehicles, while the Linux Foundation-led Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) project counts founding members such as Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Denso, and Toyota among its members. The AGL’s ultimate goal is to further develop its Unified Code Base (UCB) Linux distribution to give automakers a “70% to 80%” leg up on their infotainment development projects. The 2018 Toyota Camry became the first production vehicle to use AGL in its infotainment system in the U.S.

Open source proliferation

Open source software is used in most applications these days, as it saves companies having to develop every component internally and allows them to scale more quickly through the power of community-led software. But for mission-critical software — like that found in automobiles — safety is of paramount importance. That’s why Red Hat is setting out to bring a specialized Linux product to market with road-faring vehicles specifically in mind. This is consistent with what Red Hat has done elsewhere, building a multi-billion dollar business through serving enterprises with a hardened product with security and add-on services at its core.

For potential customers — likely major automotive companies around the world — the prospect of using open source software (compared with proprietary software from a company such as Google) will be hugely appealing, as it ensures they retain control of everything, including their data.

Red Hat hasn’t shared timing for its new automotive Linux product, which will depend on how long it takes to certify Red Hat Enterprise Linux components for vehicles. But the company did note it could eventually expand the product’s scope beyond highways and into robotics and manufacturing equipment.

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