At the Convergence 2008 conference on automotive electronics yesterday, BMW announced that it is looking for partners with which to collaborate on an open-source car computing platform. No other auto companies have officially signed on to collaborate, though Chrysler, Ford, GM, and Honda have reportedly expressed interest. BMW’s goal, with or without partners, is to have an open-source operating system in a vehicle selling 200,000 or more units over the next five to seven years.
This is an innovation blog, so there must be an innovation story here, right? Of course there is. BMW is the first manufacturer to really go out on a limb and propose the development of an open automotive operating system. Today, auto companies build expensive, proprietary systems that are difficult to update and maintain. Furthermore, these systems are rarely seen as a competitive advantage since customers tend to choose their vehicles based on performance and brand identity. From BMW’s perspective, the entire industry (and consumers) would benefit from an open-source system, since such a system would allow a wider array of service and cusomization options. The platform, which would reported be either Linux- or Android-based, would allow anyone with a programming background to create applications and services for the system; and add-ons for popular in-car devices such as iPods and mobile phones could be streamlined by third-parties instead of car companies. The idea of Google’s Android OS in a car is particularly exciting, given its current iteration as a mobile phone operating system.
This may seem like just another announcement, but given BMW’s recent tie-up with rival Mercedes-Benz (the two companies are in talks to share vehicle components and hardware in order to cut costs), it seems like BMW is for real when it comes to opening up. And why shouldn’t they be? Open-source, if done right, will be good for all stakeholders involved. Better, cheaper, faster, and customizable. What’s not to love?