Open source software has made its mark on desktop computing, mobile phones, and the internet of things. But one area yet to be cracked wide open with freely distributed software is mobility: from autonomous cars, software-assisted driving, to connecting vehicles to other devices.
On Wednesday, Arthur Taylor, chief technology officer at Advanced Telematic Systems, presented an open-source platform that he hopes will be the start of more innovation in software development for mobility technologies. But he also argued for the merits of open source software in a space pretty much dominated by the closed-off products of large corporates, such as Google and Uber.
"The software innovation is happening in the R&D centres of large, billion dollar companies," he said at re:publica, a technology conference held in Berlin this week. "The software you need to do interesting things in mobility is often expensive, time-consuming, difficult to develop."
That might include things like artificial intelligence for autonomous vehicles, systems for allowing cars to communicate with each other and infrastructure, or even more basic things such as just customizing a user interface in a car. At the moment, the innovation in software for vehicles is being led by the likes of Google and Uber, both with their own self-driving car projects.
"We don't really want to live in a world where companies like Uber are deciding who can go where at what price," he said.
That's where OpenIVI Mobility, as the platform is called, comes in. It aims to let developers get straight into experimenting with applications and some connectivity, rather than starting everything from scratch. It's a bundle of software that can be installed on a very cheap set of hardware—essentially a low-budget PC with an HDMI-screen, and a 3D-printed case—which costs around $300 to assemble, Taylor said.
"It's designed to reduce the barriers to entry for people innovating in the mobility space," Taylor said.
It's very early days for OpenIVI Mobility though. At the moment, the kit doesn't have GPS or accelerometers, for example, but Taylor and others are working on an extension to allow that capability. Eventually, tinkerers should be able to control a lot more around their vehicles.
"If people can use it, and collaborate with us, we can create a platform for our services, we share the costs of developing it," Taylor said.
But it's hoped that OpenIVI Mobility might be the building blocks of something else: the start of an open source software scene for vehicles, or as Taylor put it in an interview with Motherboard, "any computer that moves."
"Potentially it could be things like drones, things like scooters, e-bikes, cars," he added.
"We want to open up this innovation space so that we have transparency about where our data goes, we have some choice about who the service providers are. If we don't create this open ecosystem, then it's just going to be Google selling us what Google wants us to buy."