Posted Aug 9, 2012 8:40 UTC (Thu) by mkerrisk
In reply to: GPL v3
Parent article: GENIVI: moving an industry to open source
If we broadly consider the car-with-IVI-system as a consumer device, a car is a consumer device with a distinctive property: it can kill the user (and of course nonusers). As a consequence, lawyers at car companies are extremely cautious: accidents where liability can be demonstrated to lie with the manufacturer can be catastrophic for business. (I think it's enlightening to place oneself in the position of a lawyer at a multibillion dollar car company. Knowing that the decisions you make could fatally affect the business would likely make any of us extremely conservative.) Even cases where, legally speaking, the automotive manufacturer is not at fault, there is still the possibility of damage to reputation, which can likewise be bad for business.
IVI systems are not fully isolated from other networks in the car, since in practice they take information from other parts of the car (e.g., speed, engine diagnostics). In practice, it would probably be extremely difficult to trigger an effect on another network in the car via software on the IVI system. However, lawyers worry (reasonably) that there might be a nonzero chance that this can occur.
As I explained in the article, "modify the IVI system and the warranty is void" approaches are not a solution that keeps lawyers happy.
Automotive manufacturers are not taking this stance on the GPLv3 easily. Deciding not to use GPLv3-licensed software has costs for them. One might wonder if there is a hidden agenda, for example, maintaining control of the device in order to profit from an apps market. While this is possible, I've concluded by now that it's improbable. Some industry studies have shown that drivers in practice spend an extraordinarily small amount of time interacting with IVI devices. Thus, while the market in novel apps for the IVI unit may exist, because the consumer mental bandwidth available for interaction with IVI systems is orders of magnitude smaller than for tablets or smart phones, the apps market seems unlikely to be profitable for automotive manufacturers
to post comments)