Linux for cars

Car tech is exploding right now: Apple and Google are getting in on a game that Microsoft has tried to conquer for a while: infotainment systems. Now, there's another player - Automotive Grade Linux (AGL).

AGL was launched at a recent Automotive Linux Summit in Tokyo, a collaboration between the Linux Foundation and Jaguar Land Rover along with plenty of other companies including Nissan and Toyota. As you'd imagine, it's an open platform so anyone can get the source code and develop apps. It also means any car or in-car entertainment company can use it to create their own-branded version. See also: Why the era of the self-drive car is over

Automotive Grade Linux is available to download for free from the Linux Foundation website. It's built on top of the Tizen, which has been used in some smartphones and smart watches. It's also in some TVs and even cars already.

As you can see from the screenshots (click them to enlarge), it looks like a smartphone OS that's been extended with car-related apps for climate control and multi-speaker hi-fi.

Linux for cars

Features include a home screen, a control and status dashboard, Google Maps, media playback, HVAC control, a news reader app, audio controls, plus Bluetooth for hands-free calls and audio streaming. It's also clear from the screenshots that AGL has been designed with electric vehicles in mind, displaying the current charge and estimated range on a full charge.

Linux for cars

It's important to remember that this is a first release, and that the interface can be customised. However, it's also clear that it's nowhere near as user friendly as CarPlay.

While AGL may not find its way into new cars in the UK for a while, it's appeal may well be at the entry level in emerging markets, offering those who can't afford a new car an inexpensive way to upgrade their head unit to one running AGL.

Linux for cars

The idea is that the in-car system is relatively low powered, and can use a smartphone or other smart device which may have more processing power or a more accurate GPS receiver, say. This also helps to avoid obsolescence as upgrading your smartphone is considerably easier than an in-dash infotainment system.

"Openness and collaboration are key to accelerating the development of a common, standard automotive platform so the industry can more quickly achieve its vision of delivering the connected car," said Dan Cauchy, general manager of automotive, The Linux Foundation.  "This AGL release is a great step forward and the community is already looking to build on its work to address a number of additional capabilities and features in subsequent releases. With AGL at the core, the industry will be able to more rapidly innovate and evolve to meet customer needs."

See also: 2014's 10 best cars that drive, park and smell better than you do