In 2014, ZDNet’s Steven Vaughan-Nichols wrote that major automotive companies were looking to make Linux the operating system of choice. Last week, I headed to the TU-Automotive Europe conference in Munich, Germany, to get a deeper understanding of the automotive software landscape at present. What I learned there was that what Mr. Vaughan-Nichols wrote in 2014 is even more relevant today.

Linux expanding into most car systems

In the two days I was at TU-Automotive Europe, I spoke with representatives from Green Hills, Harman, Vodafone, NXP, Ford, Volkswagen, and many other automotive software and hardware companies. They confirmed that the next-generation of cars have over 20 different processing units, each with different functions: infotainment, dashboard or instrument cluster, ADAS, telematics (the information sent, received and stored by the car), event data recorder (popularly known as the black box), and others.

What’s more, Linux is seen as the future-proof OS for most of the car’s processing units. While the safety-critical functions like anti-lock braking (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESP) are still run with a real-time operating system (RTOS), most of the systems are moving (or are expected to move) to Linux. Even telematics boxes, which have been dominated for years by RTOS, are switching to Linux.

This aligns nicely with the Linux Foundation’s Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) workgroup vision for the future. Earlier this year, AGLs General Manager, Dan Cauchy, revealed to PCWorld that AGL envisions an OS that goes beyond in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) to cover more car systems such as telematics, instrument clusters, and other control systems.

HARMAN stole the show with a car-hacking demo

On a completely different note, the most powerful demo at TU-Automotive Europe was from HARMAN. With their demo, I essentially “hacked” in to their car using my own phone. Telematics boxes already allow mobile apps to send commands through SMS (text messaging) so users can control their own car. In the HARMAN demo, I sent commands to the telematics box using SMS from my phone, which allowed me to turn the car’s EPS on and off. Hackers could also gain access to your car in a similar way, putting you in real danger! But when HARMAN engaged their security software, my phone was no longer able to send the SMS commands to the car.

Their message was clear: more connected cars with more software bring us innumerable benefits, but new security threats arise. With that in mind, it’s reassuring to know there are companies focused on making next-generation cars more secure.

Tuxera – HARMAN car security demo TU-Automotive

HARMAN Automotive Cyber Security’s Sr. Marketing Manager, Dvir Reznick, shows me how to hack a car at TU-Automotive Europe 2016.

Want more like this? Find out how we’re making an impact in next-gen cars.