How GM Plans to Beat Apple and Android at the Car Software Game


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Still think electric cars are the future of the auto industry? Try to keep up. EVs are happening right now. The future of the auto industry is all about software—the software that runs on a car’s touchscreens, yes, but also the bits and bytes behind everything from the battery management system to the automatic headlights.

Auto executives fantasize about a software-powered world where your recalled car is fixed with an over-the-air software patch, you pay a subscription fee to use the heated seats, and you buy your insurance through your car’s infotainment system. They also dream of a future where their developers build digital features like these using plug-and-play software and computers that slash development time and lower costs.

Before that dream can become reality, though, the auto industry needs to reboot how it creates software. Tech leaders universally agree that they desperately and urgently need new open-source standards if they’re going to develop leading-edge software as quickly and cheaply as Apple and Google. GM recently took a step in that direction by joining the Eclipse Foundation, a coalition developing open-source standards and code for software-defined vehicles. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Volkswagen are already members of the Eclipse Foundation, as are industry suppliers such as Continental, Bosch, BlackBerry QNX, and ZF.

GM’s First Eclipse Open-Source Contribution

As it joins the Eclipse Foundation, GM is also making its first contribution to the Eclipse developer community. The automaker has proposed a new specification called uProtocol that standardizes communication between two or more pieces of software regardless of the operating systems and hardware they run on. Built on top of existing automotive and internet standards, uProtocol could be used to let a powertrain controller, a mobile phone, and a cloud-based server talk with a car’s infotainment system. That ability already exists today, but it often requires writing custom code to connect nonstandardized systems. If suppliers, software vendors, and automakers agreed to use uProtocol, it would make integrating these systems far easier.

GM will use uProtocol in its new Ultifi…