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Google building full Android IVI stack, says report

Dec 19, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 2,466 views

Google is planning to expand its Android Auto project into a full-fledged “Android M” automotive stack within the next year or two, says Reuters.

Reuters reports that Google is developing an Android-based automotive in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) and telemetry stack called Android M. Google declined comment on its story, says the publication.

If Android M is for real, the technology would go far beyond its Android Auto initiative announced earlier this year. Android Auto offers Apple CarPlay-like extensions to existing Android apps for customized interactions with a wide variety of IVI navigation and multimedia systems. IVI systems that support Android Auto should begin to appear in cars sometime in 2015.

Android Auto apps showing customized UI functions
(click image to enlarge)

Android M would instead act as a full-fledged IVI stack, with hooks into a car’s telemetry systems. Unlike Android Auto, with Android M, “You don’t have to depend on your phone being there and on,” Reuters quoted one of its two sources as saying. “With embedded it’s always on, always there,” said the source.

Android M won’t be ready for a year or so, according to Reuters’s two unnamed sources. Reuters speculates that Google is pursuing Android M to “potentially access the valuable trove of data collected by a vehicle.” The story goes on to say that by “tapping into the car’s components, Google could also gain valuable information to feed its data-hungry advertising business model.”

The story quotes one of its sources as saying, “You can get access to GPS location, where you stop, where you travel every day, your speed, your fuel level, where you stop for gas.”

Assuming the Android M rumor is true, it’s not entirely surprising. In fact, last January at CES when Google announced its Open Automotive Alliance with Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai, and Nvidia, most of the discussion was about connectivity software that would eventually be named Android Auto. However, the OAA FAQ stated “We’re also developing new Android platform features that will enable the car itself to become a connected Android device.”

Google’s new Self Driving Car prototype
(click image to enlarge)

Google has also been involved in automotive technology with its Linux-based Self Driving Car project, which this year was ported from a Honda Prius to a smaller in-house prototype. The company has struggled to find an automotive partner, however. Carmakers seem fine with adding a connectivity stack to make it easier for Android phone and tablet users to operate their devices over their IVI systems, but seem leery of letting Google take control of the car itself.

Renault’s R-Link

Android has already made it into a few cars, although it trails other Linux platforms, not to mention automotive IVI leaders QNX (BlackBerry) and Windows Embedded Automotive (Microsoft). One of the first Android systems was Parrot’s Asteroid after-market IVI system. Android became a standard automotive feature in September 2013 when Renault announced it was shipping its Android-based R-Link system in 15 Renault car models. Also in 2013, Malaysian car company Proton launched a Suprima S hatchback with an Android-based IVI system, and Clarion Malaysia announced an AX1 Android IVI system for OEMs.

Android-based Honda Connect IVI system running on Nvidia Tegra
(click images to enlarge)

In October of this year Nvidia announced that its Tegra SoC would run Android on a newly tipped Honda Connect IVI system in 2015 Honda Civic, Civic Tourer, and CR-V cars in Europe. Hyundai is also working on a second-generation Blue Link IVI system based on Android.

It should be noted that all of these implementations are custom Android builds, most of which appear to be have been developed mostly independently of Google. Google has still yet to find a major carmaker willing to give it more of a stake an IVI platform.

Boot-time challenges Android’s automotive future

One of Reuters’s sources commented that Android must first implement “major improvements in performance and stability” before Android M can be released. The source also said the stack must be able to “power-up instantly when the driver turns the car on, instead of having to wait more than 30 seconds, as happens with many smartphones.”

Boot-time is one area where real-time operating systems like QNX have an advantage over Linux- and Windows-based automotive stacks. Automotive Linux builds for GENIVI and other IVI platforms have the edge over Android on boot time. However, several vendors have claimed to speed Android boot-time, as well as provide better reliability and security. A year ago, AllGo Embedded Systems announced a Fast Boot Android technology that was claimed to boot Android 4.1 (“Jelly Bean”) to full IVI system availability within four seconds.

In August of this year, the Xen Project’s Embedded and Automotive initiative announced it would bring its hypervisor to a GlobalLogic IVI “Nautilus” IVI stack, which combines fast-boot Android IVI firmware with a telematics system running either Linux or QNX. The Nautilus platform’s fast booting Android stack has been contributed to the Linux Foundation’s Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) project as the foundation for a new Automotive Grade Android (AGA) version.

According to a GlobalLogic AGA web-page, “systems built on this platform are ready to use within 5-7 seconds of powering up, and the rear-view camera on the head unit is activated within 1-2 seconds of switching into reverse gear immediately after power-up.” GlobalLogic says the AGA-enabled Nautilus, which uses a TI Jacinto processor, also addresses other Android shortcomings in automotive, including unreliability and security vulnerabilities.

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