When General Motors

first announced its new Ultifi vehicle software development platform last October, it revealed that it would be based on the open source Linux operating system but provided few other details. Today at the Red Hat

Summit, it was announced that long-time Linux developer Red Hat would be providing its In-Vehicle Operating System to the automaker. The Ultifi platform is planned to launch in 2023.

Red Hat Linux is one of the oldest distributions of the open source operating system, having debuted in 1994, about three years after Linus Torvalds originally released the kernel. Over the years, Red Hat has become one of the largest Linux providers to a wide variety of industries. The company was acquired by IBM

in 2018.

Linux has been widely used in automotive applications for more than a decade. Along with Blackberry’s QNX, Linux is the most common OS used to power in-vehicle infotainment systems and instrument clusters. In many cases, automakers or the infotainment suppliers have used Linux and just built their own interfaces and applications on top of the base OS. Some manufacturers have taken a more round-about approach to Linux by adopting the Android Open Source Project as Honda has done since about 2015. Android is an interface layer on top of Linux that provides a variety of services to application developers.

Ultifi will be the first major automotive application for Red Hat. In some respects, Ultifi is conceptually similar to Android but it goes much further. Android in the car has been mainly focused on providing application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow applications to get data from features such as the GPS, or transmission shift position or user controls like audio volume.


Ultifi is designed to go much further, overseeing all software defined aspects of the vehicle. This includes safety critical systems like the advanced driver assistance system (ADA

S), steering and also the propulsion system as well as climate control, seat adjustments and more. The goal is to provide an interface that developers can get vehicle data from and send commands too, regardless of what the underlying hardware is. This way, GM can upgrade to newer generations of compute platforms, or replace sensors or actuators and the applications don’t need to know.

This will be used for applications created internally by GM developers as well as those from third parties such as suppliers or independent developers. The whole platform will make it much easier to provide over-the-air updates for all systems in the vehicle. Using a standardized interface will also make it easier for internal and external developers to reuse code and scale applications for different vehicles.

If successful, GM also expects this to significantly shorten the cycle time for developing, validating and deploying software updates. In the past these updates have traditionally been tied to model year changes, but now just as Tesla

does, they can be deployed at any time to the entire fleet of in-service vehicles.

With Linux being so widely deployed across everything from IoT devices to computers to data centers, it should help GM in recruiting qualified developers in the coming years. Third party developers will have to meet safety, security and privacy requirements and be certified by GM before applications can be deployed to vehicles, but at least they should have the technical skills to do the work.


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