Japanese Automakers Rev Up New Car OS

The highly intelligent, networked car of the future will hit a milestone this week as 10 Japanese automakers are poised to announce they are developing their own operating system to help set a standard platform to build controls for everything from the engine to the entertainment system.

The common operating system could foster savings in development time and reduce needed coding (engine control systems can have a million lines of code), but more important usher in the multi-year transition to the industry's elusive "domain" model.

In that model, a set of domains with a central 32-bit operating system and a legion of surrounding 16-bit and 8-bit micro-processors govern systems such as the drive train, safety systems and entertainment.

"These are the things you read about in research papers and see at auto conferences," says Egil Juliussen, principal analyst at Telematics Research Group. "[Car makers] are thinking about it. In five or 10 years you will see this."

That is also the time frame in which the 10 Japanese automakers, including Toyota, Honda, and Nissan, hope to release their common operating system for automotive electronics, according to a report by Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun news agency.

It reported that Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry will commission the task of developing the OS to the Japan Automotive Software Platform and Architecture (JasPar) standards group, which also includes auto-parts makers and electronics firms such as Denso and Toshiba. The ministry plans to seek more than 1 billion yen in funding for the project during fiscal 2008.

On average today, a car includes 70 microprocessors, according the Telematics Research Group.

Juliussen says it is a good thing that the Japanese automakers are aiming at one OS, whereas today they have to reinvent the wheel nearly every time they use another micro-processor.

"Just like IT, they want one or two platforms," he says.

Toyota's separate plan

Last June, the Japanese magazine Nikkei Electronics Asia reported that Toyota and Nagoya University's Center for Embedded Computing Systems were developing an OS for automotive terminals to handle such functions as navigation, telematics and driving support. The OS is for automobile information systems, and includes functions to tie it to a car's control systems OS and allow the two to share microprocessor resources, according to the magazine.

Toyota plans for the future terminals to run a single multi-core processor and the company said it would make the OS available to other manufacturers via JasPar.

While the new Japanese automaker OS effort and last year's announcement from Toyota/Nagoya seem similar, there is no word if one is the outgrowth of the other.

Toyota/Nagoya had tabbed 2010 for rollout of its OS while the new alliance is hoping for a prototype in 2009 and in the market within the next decade, according to Yomiuri Shimbun.

Lots of automotive operating systems

There are a number of real-time operating systems in use today including industry leader OSEK, which was developed by auto-parts maker Bosch, and includes specifications for an embedded operating system, a communications stack, and a network management protocol for automotive embedded systems.

"It is proven in Europe," Juliussen says. "They might have to upgrade it at some point, but it won't go away."

European automakers such as BMW and DaimlerChrysler, which helped develop OSEK, are said to be working on a new automobile OS and plan to show a prototype next year.

There are also operating systems from companies such as Microsoft, which in January said its Windows Auto-based Sync OS would power hands-free mobile phone communication, e-mail, and music downloads within a dozen Ford vehicles rolling out this fall.

Toyota, among others, uses the Windows Auto platform for navigation systems and its G-Book telematics units on some of its cars, but it is unclear if that will change when the Japanese alliance OS is developed.

In addition, there are software models such as the AuTomotive Open System Architecture (AutoSar) and communications technologies such as FlexRay, a time-critical bus, and MOST, a high performance bus, that help support control functions such as fuel injection, airbags and power steering.

In the United States, Wind River's provides a platform for developing telematics, infotainment, navigation, and entertainment that includes its VxWorks real-time operating system, and Green Hills Software develops the Intergrity and Velosity, real-time operating systems and a real-time microkernel.

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