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If there had been any doubt, vehicles are now a software-defined category.

And as such, the future of driving is at a critical inflection point. Drivers and the automotive industry alike are determining what in-car experiences should look like, how those will continue to be defined and connected with other aspects of life — and most notably, how they will maintain the highest levels of safety and security.

As a means to simplify the process and further innovate the space, Red Hat  announced a collaboration with General Motors. With the partnership, the two leading companies “intend to redefine the transportation landscape” with a continuous functional-safety certified, Linux-based in-vehicle operating system. This will enable the companies, they say, to responsibly offer more valuable features in a fraction of the typical development time.

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“With millions of lines of code sustaining critical systems like driver assistance, fuel economy and more, modern vehicles are more like mobile high-performance computers than the cars of the past,” said Francis Chow, vice president and general manager for In-Vehicle Operating System and Edge at Red Hat. “The time to innovate is now.”

In-vehicle software systems are — rightly so — complex. High levels of protection are essential when it comes not just to general safety, but cybersecurity. Maintaining compliance means high levels of assurance in underlying software. And, according to automakers, such robust, intricate, stringent requirements around safety protocols and certification standards can lengthen development and complicate software updates.

Nearly half of automakers’ software development costs are dedicated to maintenance and triage, according to Alex Oyler, director for North America at independent research and consultancy firm SBD Automotive. And this is where a partnership of the likes of Red Hat and GM can be so beneficial, he said.

“While the automotive industry has been trying to find ways to leverage the open-source community for the past decade, the rise of the software-defined vehicle signifies their conjunction,” he said. “The massive addressable domain of in-vehicle and edge software in modern vehicles necessitates an ecosystem-driven approach to reduce software development costs for automakers.”

The Red Hat-GM collaboration will expand on the existing Red Hat In-Vehicle Operating System, which leverages open-source Linux for safety and non-safety-related applications. Already in use by Volkswagen, BMW Group and Audi, this system enables connected vehicles via digital prototyping and virtual testing and it develops services supporting advanced driver assistance and autonomous systems. It also supports vehicle digital life cycles via enterprise-grade, long-term support models and establishes a common approach to standards by leveraging the open-source community.

Red Hat will help accelerate development of GM’s software-defined vehicle programs through the automaker’s new Ultifi software platform. Ultifi was announced in September as a means to “unlock new vehicle experiences and connect customers’ digital lives.”

Automobiles as a service

“General Motors is now a platform company,” said Scott Miller, vice president for Software Defined Vehicle and Operating System at GM. “Working with Red Hat is a critical element in advancing our Ultifi software development.”

By integrating the Red Hat system and Ultifi platform, the companies aim to simplify and accelerate updating capabilities. The integration will support in-vehicle and non-safety-related applications such as infotainment, advanced driver assistance systems, body control and connectivity.

All told, the partnership strives to reduce costs across the board, improve the development cycle for faster time-to-market and enable continuous functional safety certification for systems related to safety applications. The companies also expect it to lead to the creation of new services, business models and revenue streams.

Red Hat will contribute to the phased rollout of Ultifi, which will launch in 2023. Designed to be universally usable for GM developers, suppliers and the developer community at large, the system will enable more frequent and seamless delivery of software-defined features, apps and services to customers over-the-air. The platform achieves this by separating application software and hardware, thus creating a more flexible architecture for cloud-based and edge capabilities, according to GM.

Linux and cloud-native technologies driving auto industry

Chow underscored the fact that the partnership will benefit the transportation industry at large by helping to standardize use of open-source Linux and cloud-native technologies. Such common standards will also help establish more scalable design processes, ultimately allowing GM and other automakers to dedicate more resources to personalized in-cabin experiences.

“These new vehicles give our industries a chance to create a common open platform without sacrificing functional safety,” Chow said. “By collaborating with GM on the Red Hat In-Vehicle Operating System, we intend to bring the era of open source to the automotive world, benefiting automakers, ecosystem partners and consumers.”

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