There are times I wonder how the auto industry has managed to fall so far behind in the realm of technology. Only within the past year or so have we seen the rise of commercially available wireless options in mass production vehicles. Take a look at the standard options for mobile displays within car dashboards and you will see nothing to truly impress you. Consider that a low-spec smartphone is more impressive (and offers far more features and services) than does that console of a high-end automobile.

Recently I rented a Jeep Cherokee Limited edition, that included a touch-screen console with what was supposed to have all the bells and whistles. That touch screen wound up to be less-than user-friendly, not even remotely yielding to what I what I wanted it to do, and served little purpose other than to navigate my wife and I through Miami, Florida, listen to music, and view the rear-facing camera for backing up. The in-console display had serious issues connecting to any smartphone we had, so music was limited to satellite.

Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed.

In the coming few years, that will all change, thanks to our friends at the Linux Foundation. The foundation started Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) to create open source software solutions for automotive applications. Their initial focus is on In-Vehicle-Infotainment (IVI) and their long-term goals include the addition of instrument clusters and telematics systems. Already AGL already has the likes of Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota on board and that list will only continue to grow.

Isn’t this already happening?

But wait, aren’t the biggest players in the mobile market already tackling the connected automobile? You may have already heard of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay? These are clearly the brand-specific solutions for the auto industry and both rely heavily on their connected phones to do a lot of the heavy lifting. That’s where AGL takes a completely different route. Instead of depending on a separate device to serve as the operating system to drive the platform, AGL will be a stand-alone platform with one very specific difference to any competition.

Open source.

That’s right. AGL is completely open. In fact, you can already download the source for Automotive Grade Linux and run it on supported hardware (Renasas R-CAR M2 PORTER, Renasas R-CAR E2 SILK, QEMU x86). Because AGL is open source, car manufacturers won’t be dealing with a collection of proprietary code that will work for a single model, only to have to turn around and purchase another collection of proprietary code for the next model. Instead, the manufacturer downloads the source for AGL and makes it work to their exact specifications each time. Couple this with the idea that, according to Emily Olin, senior PR representative for the Linux Foundation, most auto manufacturers don’t want to hand over control to the likes of Google or Apple and AGL starts to make a lot of sense. Like its progenitor, Linux, AGL isn’t under the control of any single company. In fact, developers from every member company of AGL are working together so that AGL can be adopted by the entire automotive industry.

An impressive feat, no doubt.

But it’s not “known”

That’s right. The average consumer doesn’t know much about Linux and probably nothing about AGL. Truth be told, that doesn’t matter. That same average consumer is already using Linux in devices at home and work; smartphones, embedded devices, clouds, chromebooks, etc. And when they purchase a car running AGL, it won’t matter that it’s Linux; it will only matter that it meets (and exceeds) their needs. AGL will do just that. Linux has already proved how well it can function in embedded systems and smartphones, so there is no reason to think it will not rise far and above what both Google and Apple are doing with their in-car solutions — solutions that cannot fully function without being connected to an external mobile device.

When will this happen?

According to Dan Cauchy, general manager of the Automotive Grade Linux project, the first autos to hit the streets, running AGL, should appear sometime in 2018. By then, it is expected that AGL will be on version 3, so it will be ready for prime time. Considering the first version was released at CES 2016, that’s an impressive feat.

Get involved

You can get involved with AGL. How? By way of a number of mailing lists that you can join to help bring AGL to the streets:

Thanks to AGL, the connected, interactive auto experience is about to undergo major improvements. The year 2018 might well be the year of Linux — in the car and on the road.