back to article Toyota's entertaining the idea of Linux in cars

The Linux Foundation's Automotive Grade Linux project is celebrating its first big-name user, after Toyota said it will employ the OS in the 2018 Camry model it will sell in the United States. Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) is an effort to create a cut of Linux capable of being dropped into cars with minimal integration hassles …

  1. Tim99 Silver badge

    Ah but,

    does it need systemd...

    1. Jay 2

      Re: Ah but,

      Yes, before you know it said system will want to start integrating itself with things like stearing and braking...

    2. Chemical Bob

      Re: Ah but,

      "does it need systemd..."

      Don't you pay attention to the commentards here?! All the knowledgeable Anti-Penguinistas understand that the Real Problem is *drivers*. Where, oh where, will Toyota get drivers for it's cars?

      Mine's the one with the driving manual in the pocket...

  2. clocKwize

    After playing a fair bit with BMW computer systems, the key thing I noticed that I thought made it robust and easy to swap parts in and out was the fact that pretty much everything has its own individual computing module, which communicates with everything else via a network of some kind (CAN, Ethernet, Fibre for media stuff). This means if one module breaks, AC for instance, your airbags still work..

    Putting everything in 1 module with containers sounds like half way to disaster. Sure if 1 container goes wrong, it can probably be easily restarted or fixed or whatever, but sounds like when something worse happens, the whole car will be useless until you buy a new computer for it..

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Sure if 1 container goes wrong, it can probably be easily restarted or fixed or whatever, but sounds like when something worse happens, the whole car will be useless until you buy a new computer for it..

      You describe the ECU, how many decades have we already had those?

    2. bazza Silver badge

      There's also the simple matter of wiring, short circuits, earth faults, etc.

      Separate modules with a direct connection to the thing they're controlling is easier to make reliable. Having a central brain with a longer wired connection to the things its controlling then means that the wiring loom's integrity and earth/chassis bonding is very important.

      CAN bus is electrically very robust. Apparently you can short any one single conductor to ground, and the bus will continue to work perfectly well. The same cannot be said of Ethernet...

      1. Tom Samplonius

        "CAN bus is electrically very robust. Apparently you can short any one single conductor to ground, and the bus will continue to work perfectly well. The same cannot be said of Ethernet..."

        I guess the bus in CAN bus is some sort of magically bus then? The CAN bus is not much different electrical from Ethernet thin-net, including the use of terminating transceivers on each end. And they both work about as well when the terminating transceivers are removed, or shorted to ground, which is not well at all.

        However, today, you'd use an Ethernet switch, and switches can handle shorts on each conductors. This is really the big advantage of Ethernet over CAN bus. CAN bus is just a simple low bandwidth half-duplex bus.

        1. annodomini2

          CAN Reliability

          Depends on the Bus, Low speed CAN, can operate as a LIN bus in the event the CAN HIGH or CAN LOW becomes open circuit.

          High Speed CAN doesn't support this feature, neither does CAN FD.

    3. Libertarian Voice

      It was done some time ago.

      Range rover did this with the BECM in the range rover P38 in 1994. There were certainly issues with this model, but once you got used to it, it wasn't all bad.

    4. Jonathan 27

      Separate modules all over the car is one of the primary reasons BMWs and Mercedes are so expensive to repair. Most cars are better off with the solution Japanese manufacturers use, which is to limit the number of components. Less to go wrong.

  3. Lars Silver badge


    Also Mercedes--Benz was mentioned in the original article.

  4. AMBxx Silver badge

    Please keep it simple

    Am I the only person that wants a mechanical car with the only clever stuff being the BT radio? Just too much to go wrong and need updating.

    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Please keep it simple

      Aren't you posh running around in a car with a bluetooth radio.

      Some of us have to make do with a tape deck.

      1. 27escape

        Re: Please keep it simple

        I hope its an 8 track!

        1. wolfetone Silver badge

          Re: Please keep it simple

          It's no track.

          It's broke.

      2. PNGuinn


        MY first car was a 1965 Austin 1100. I thrashed that old rotbox into the ground. I took me 17 years of happy motoring and over 220k miles to get to the point where it had obviously reached the end of the line. Never quite got it over the 400k miles. Sad.

        Fitted a 1960 vintage Philips radio my Uncle had given me. Had to pull out the dash first to get the bugger in. 4 valves and an OC16 in class A for audio output. Drank about 1.5 amps.

        Fitted it in about 1976. Apart from having to replace a knackered volume control it lasted the 17 years I had the car. Still worked about a year ago when I fired it up.


        I think I may be getting older.

        >> Needed a 5 ohm speaker IIRR.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Please keep it simple

      Am I the only person that wants a mechanical car with the only clever stuff being the BT radio? Just too much to go wrong and need updating.

      What's stopping you? Get one of these old classic cars, you won't even have to pay any VED if you are in the UK but just hope you don't get into a collision.

    3. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Please keep it simple

      Though a purely mechanical car is very appealing, you simply cannot get the same level of refinement without using software control. For example, every aspect of the combustion process is software controlled these days, meaning that you can get a smooth running, economic, responsive yet driveable engine that works well and starts well no matter what the climatic conditions are.

      This shows up a lot in how smooth an engine sounds when it's idling. These days we take it for granted that most engines will purr smoothly when idling, yet achieving this with a caburetour whilst also having good throttle response is difficult. Traditionally the smoothness came about in part from having a decently heavy flywheel, which would give the engine poor throttle response. Nowadays you don't need anything like as much weight in the flywheel. The ECU can smooth out the engine's idling by having very good and fast control of air and fuel delivery to individual cylinders in the engine on a stroke by stroke basis, so that it runs bang on 850rpm even if the underlying mechanical tendancy would be for the engine to idle poorly.

      Diesels in particular, loathsome though many consider them to be, are significantly better because of the software control. Generally speaking they inject many pulses of fuel into a cyclinder at TDC, which improves combustion efficiency and smoothness. If you compare any modern diesel to an old diesel - well, the noise difference speaks volumes.

      Complicated? Yes, definitely.

      Impressive? Certainly.

      Essential? Well, if we want to use less fuel without engaging in dramatic, far reaching and controversial national socio-economic discussions about transportation, housing and employment policy and how there should be more trains/trams and fewer roads/cars, most definitely yes. Say what you like about ecofriendliness, but from a purely economic point of view finding a way to use less fuel going forward sounds like spending less of our money on buying the thick, gloopy black stuff. We can all be keen on that, unless you're one of Trumps current crop of best pals.

      1. PNGuinn

        Re: This shows up a lot in how smooth an engine sounds when it's idling.

        Modern engines don't idle. They rev their little high tech nuts off.

        I'll pit my old 1100's austin A series engine and SU HS2 carb against anything "modern" for starting and idling any day.

        Usually fired in less that a second rain or shine, heatwave or frost. Warm idling speed easily less that 200 rpm, (about 1000rpm cold with manually adjustable cold star enrichment).

        You could get away with that low an idle with a dynamo as it didn't load the engine (charge) at low revs.

        Yeah, I must be getting old.

        1. David Woodhead
          Thumb Down

          Re: This shows up a lot in how smooth an engine sounds when it's idling.

          No. An A series engine will not idle at 200 rpm, or anything near it. I've owned a Morris Minor Series 2, two 1100s, a standard Mini and a 1275cc MG Midget, all of which could idle at 800 - 1,000 rpm but not lower.

          Your rev counter needed some serious recalibration.

      2. nematoad

        Re: Please keep it simple

        OK, my Mini Cooper S, a real one that is, has an ECU and fuel injection and it works fine, but that is as far as I want to go down the "connected" route. I cannot for the life of me see why all these other computing systems are deemed so necessary. Now this may be because I am a grumpy old sod who has not moved with times but as far as I'm concerned it's horses for courses. Linux on my desktop and me in my car. I neither need or want to be "infotained" when I'm driving. I want to left alone so I can concentrate and avoid all the pot-holes, lunatics and other hazards present on the roads.

        Of course it could be that there are reasons for the rush to computerise everything in the car but as far as I can see the the dangers outweigh the benefits: See also IoT.

        1. BRYN

          Re: Please keep it simple

          A real one for the 60's had either an ECU or Fuel injection.

          You had the late 80's/90's special edition Mini Cooper. A last hurrah of the original Mini before BMW bout rover and made the modern (massive) Mini


          1. nematoad

            Re: Please keep it simple

            If by real one you mean only a '60s Mini then I must disagree. My Cooper S is a limited edition of 50 produced in 1998 and purchased from John Cooper himself.

            It's got all the classic Mini attributes. small size. an A series engine and lots of rust so I would contend that it is a "real" Mini produced at Longbridge on the original production line and by many of the original workers.

            My point was that my car works well and is fuel efficient due to the modern technology. Imposed in part by the EU to reduce pollution but it is still a real Mini at heart with all of its, benefits and flaws. What I have no need for is for things to go any further.

            Finally I would class you as a"purist" not a pedant.

            Why BMW chose to call the new jumbo a "Mini" is a mystery to me.

      3. Grandpa Tom

        Re: Please keep it simple

        I have a completely mechanical 71 El Camino. No bluetooth. No computer at all. Installed a tiny stereo AMP (motorcycle style) to play music from a thumb drive. That and electronic ignition are the only electronic items in the car.

        Idle is perfectly smooth. Runs great. Will pass anything but a gas station...

      4. annodomini2

        Re: Please keep it simple

        You can make a mechanical engine as efficient and refined as something ECU controlled.

        It would be heavier and cost a lot more, but it is possible.

    4. naive

      Re: Please keep it simple

      Lets go back to the early 70's. A nice car, 100% free of electronics, would be a BMW 3.0S (type E3).

      Power output 180HP, six (!) times the output of a VW beetle 1200 from that era.

      The fuel delivery system in this car of a dual carburetor, with some features to make the car run smooth over the whole power spectrum.

      Suppose the mechanic makes a mistake on one of the carbs, causing fuel delivery to be too lean, because some screw was too far in for a quarter turn.

      The lean mixture causes combustion to get hotter, which on its turn damages the valves in the three cylinders affected. In the beginning this issue won't hardly be noticed with this buttery running six cylinder. By the time the problem gets noticed, one or more valves may have to be replaced, resulting in a head job costing quite some money.

      Modern cars electronics would notice the lean fuel mixture entering the cylinders, and throw a yellow check engine light on the dash, saving considerable money.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Please keep it simple

        A modern mechanic can still break your car in subtle ways be incompetence.

        I've got no problem with modern ECUs (although the manufacturing processes have given us tighter tolerances reducing windage which has also contributed a lot to efficiency).

        What I don't want is any possible connection between my "infotainment" system and anything else in the car. I also think a lot of these systems are dangerous in that they draw the drivers attention away from the road. Pushing a button to change station is one thing swiping, pinching and moving through menus, in my opinion, should be banned while on the move.

    5. Jonathan 27

      Re: Please keep it simple

      I think you're going to have to either build your own car or buy one manufactured before 1980 to get that. Cars have been using ECUs for ages. If it has fuel injection, you're using software control somewhere.

  5. Will Godfrey Silver badge



    'nuff sed?

    1. Joseph Haig

      Re: Eggs

      Being able to put all your eggs in it was one of the design requirements for the Citroen 2CV.

    2. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Eggs

      Indeed. The idea of one software system controlling the instrument binacle and the Internet connected infortainment system is, well, probably a little risky. You can smell the news articles about remote binnacle hacks coming from years away...

      ARS Technica recently had an indepth review of various different systems used in cars today. Turns out that their most favourite ones were all based on QNX; seems that a proper real time OS is a very good idea in these things. A proper RTOS with decent context switch times means you can use cheaper hardware without compromising on response times. Trivial things like boot time matter. Get in your car, turn on, you want the radio working right then, you don't want some stupid Linux boot log scrolling past for 30 seconds...

      Risk of GUI Lunacy

      It takes a monumental amount of effort to layer a decent application / graphics environment on top of an OS / kernel. Look at how long the Gnome and KDE projects have been going, and how annoying the results can be even after all that time.

      A car manufacturer is going to be super reluctant to use someone else's open source GUI environment - all it takes is for the project members to go crazy and suddenly your entire line of cars is sporting a stupid UI that no one actually likes. The Gnome project have done some woefully stupid things in recent times... Can you imagine waking up one morning to find that the latest update for your car has resulted in the same kind of UI downgrade that happened when Gnome went from 2.x to 3.x?

      So I think it will take a long time to do something new with AGL. Android has already gone through a lot of development, and it's always going to be a tough choice between selling one's soul to Google and going it alone...

  6. Anonymous Coward

    I must be getting old....

    My phone happily integrates with the inbuilt system via bluetooth.

    I don't need to see album art

    I don't need to see what radio station is on in 2cm high lettering with a multicolour background

    I don't need my car to take photos

    I don't need to get facebook update.

    I have satnav on my phone, which is in a better location than the console. It can handle calls and texts (read aloud and respond should I wish), and all the system controls are exactly where I need them

    Please can someone explain the benefits, other than "me too".

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: I must be getting old....

      I don't need my car to take photos

      You do not drive in a big city. We have reached a point where having a blackbox video recorder is your last like of defence against ambulance chasers.

      In any case, I do not see the point of using AGL for this. This is an infotainment system - an area where there is a boatload of existing Android based examples which do everything an AGL infotainment system does.

  7. John Watts

    Two things that will happen ...

    Somebody will install Debian.

    Somebody will run Doom on it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Two things that will happen ...

      at least with AGL, rather than a Windows, they won't be trying GTA?

      1. Aladdin Sane

        Re: Two things that will happen ...

        KSP would be more interesting.

    2. PNGuinn

      Re: Two things that will happen ...

      Somebody will install Devuan

      Somebody will run Doom on it.


    3. Libertarian Voice

      Re: Two things that will happen ...

      Haha. I was already thinking how I would be able to get debian on it, I would also disable all the telemetics.

      1. William Towle

        Re: Two things that will happen ...

        > I would also disable all the telemetics.

        Me too. My travel sickness is bad enough without having hackers bring it on remotely.

  8. AbsolutelyBarking

    I also don't need....

    An insecure keyless locking system which means I have to use one of those crappy steering locks that I used on my Metro in the nineties. Really not a problem to press a button on the keyfob!

    Another brilliant marketing "feature" that delivers virtually no benefit but introduces a whole load of shite....

    1. dajames

      I also don't need....

      An insecure keyless locking system which means I have to use one of those crappy steering locks that I used on my Metro in the nineties. Really not a problem to press a button on the keyfob!


      "Keyless entry" is a fine example of a broken solution looking for a non-existent problem.

      1. Fatman

        RE: "Keyless" entry

        <quote>"Keyless entry" is a fine example of a broken solution looking for a non-existent problem marketing hacks 'feature list' that offers little real value to the consumer, but causes vendor lock-in with the associated profits from being the exclusive source of replacement parts.</quote>

        There!!! FTFY

        Listen up, boys and girls, the only reason why this shit is included is to drive up the sales price of cars, and to make them more expensive to repair. Infotainment module went bad? Oh, that is too bad, an OEM replacement is $$$$$$$, Oh, and good luck trying to find aftermarket parts.

        Now, chew on this, as more cars incorporate LIDAR units for collision avoidance in their bumpers, the costs of replacing those damaged units gets added up in your collision insurance premium. And, since most people in the USofA either lease their vehicle or have an auto loan that requires maintaining collision insurance, guess who gets fucked?

        1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

          Re: RE: "Keyless" entry

          "Oh, and good luck trying to find aftermarket parts."

          There are reports of my car's manufacturer refusing to integrate replacement radios legally sourced from scrap yards. (Its on the Internet, it must be true.) This is, of course, to prevent you using possibly stolen goods - nothing to do with outrageous price of a dealer sourced replacement.

  9. PNGuinn

    The REAL benifit

    We'll all get to see the source code.

    1. nowster

      Re: The REAL benefit

      Only for the GPLv2 components. They will also avoid GPLv3 software like the plague.

      1. smot

        Re: The REAL benefit

        Up vote for correcting the typo.

    2. James Hughes 1

      Re: The REAL benifit

      As someone who digs around in the Linux kernel to try and fix stuff, access to the source code is of benefit to very few people, despite the proclamations by many. The code is so complex you cannot really do much with it unless you spend a lot of time on it. And few people have that time.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. joed

    prior "art"?

    I believe that Mazda's head units were (at some point) running on Linux and were not locked down to prevent users from modifying them.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: prior "art"?

      Tesla consoles have been hacked and Ubuntu found running on them.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another plea for KISS

    Having had a few cars with their own "approach" to in car software, I really, really, really, really don't want any more.

    All I want is a rock-solid bluetooth connection, so I can use MY phone, MY player, MY satnav.

    Everything else is just a waste of mine (and the manufacturers) time.

    The only thing the car should provide is a decent (10"+) touchscreen that my Android/iPhone can cast to, for ease of use.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rather Linux than Windows...

    ^ this.

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: Rather Linux than Windows...

      How about Windows for Warships for Cars?

      1. Fatman

        Re: Rather Linux than Windows...

        You may be on to something.

        Here in the USofA, road rage is a serious problem, especially in the cities.

        Now, consider a fleet of White Hats that drive the roads, and come across some driver being a jerk. If the O/S was Windows, then simply hack into it, and shut that fucker down.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rather Linux than Windows...

      ..and the last thing he saw on his head up display, m'lud, was a blue screen of he tried to reboot the car in the fast lane of the autobahn...

  13. Simone

    but... but... but...

    I thought that it was difficult to get drivers for Linux !!

  14. Flakk

    Automotive Grade Linux

    Kernel panic

    Memory dump

    Airbags deploy

    1. Fatman

      Re: Automotive Grade Linux

      No, you have that all wrong.

      If it were Windows, the car would refuse to start complaining that it could not connect to the DRM server, and you were running an illegal copy of Windows Automotive. You would then have to fork out some more money to get it fixed.

      Nice extortion racket, brick $RANDOM number of cars daily, requiring periodic re-installation of Windows Automotive. That is the sort of shit that would make the slimy ones at Prenda Law very proud.

  15. Bob Hoskins

    Linux is crap

    They should use Windows 7 - it's a mature technology that works.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Linux is crap

      They should use CP/M. Its a mature technology that works.

      Especially coupled to cable operated brakes

      And a manual advance/ retard on the steering column.

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