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GM created its own open-source software protocol and wants its competitors to use it

GM created its own open-source software protocol and wants its competitors to use it


The automaker is joining the Eclipse Foundation to underscore its commitment for more open communication standards between connected cars.

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Illustration: Alex Castro / The Verge

General Motors announced the creation of its own open-source software protocol as a “starting point” for other automakers and developers to create better software experiences for its customers. The move comes as the auto industry scrambles to hire more software developers and programmers to help produce cars that are essentially computers on wheels.

GM’s “uProtocol” is part of the automaker’s plan to “speed up software development by streamlining the creation of software that is distributed across multiple devices within vehicles as well as across the cloud and mobile,” the company said in a release.

More importantly, GM says it sees this as an opportunity to work across the industry on software projects that could be beneficial to all customers, not just the ones who own Cadillac or Chevy vehicles. Toward that end, the company is also joining the Eclipse Foundation, a Brussels-based organization that describes itself as “the world’s largest open source software foundation.”

GM’s uProtocol is part of the automaker’s plan to speed up software development

GM launched its own open-source protocol in the hopes that “the rest of the industry will also adopt a similar mindset of sharing more software enabling, more interoperability across the industry,” said Frank Ghenassia, executive chief architect of software-defined vehicles at General Motors, in a briefing with reporters. “So that overall as an industry, we can be productive in developing software that will benefit our customers.”

The overall effort is intended to speed the development of software-defined vehicles. The auto industry has been on a hiring spree over the past several years, scooping up thousands of software developers in the hopes of bringing more technical sophistication to their fleets. The recent Silicon Valley layoffs have afforded those companies even more of an opportunity to build up their ranks of coders and tech-savvy workers.

The result has been the release of more cars with continuously updating software features. Tesla was the first company to bring over-the-air software updates to the mainstream. Now, the rest of the industry is scrambling to catch up by introducing their own upgradable vehicles.

GM’s main effort is Ultifi, a software platform that will start to appear in vehicles later this year. The company says that the end-to-end software platform will enable OTA updates, in-car subscription services, and “new opportunities to increase customer loyalty.”

The overall effort is intended to speed the development of software-defined vehicles

The automaker has said Ultifi can power everything from weather apps to potentially controversial features like the use of in-car cameras for facial recognition or to detect children to automatically trigger the car’s child locks. The Linux-based system will also be available to third-party developers who may want to create apps and other features for GM customers.

GM’s uProtocol will serve as a starting point for those third-party developers, the company says. Like an API, the open-source protocol is “the communication protocol that enables software components to talk to each other and to communicate and exchange information,” Ghenassia said. “The protocol itself does not include a specification of what is the structure of the messages, what is the content of the information that is exchanged between the software components.”

In other words, GM is trying to standardize communication protocols, not the content that is being passed back and forth, most of which should be considered proprietary and not something that GM would necessarily want its competitors to gain access to. After all, there’s only so much sharing that can be allowed in a free market capitalistic system.

“We leave the topic of standardizing on data structures and what information is exchanged for a different contribution,” Ghenassia said. “Maybe in a different context.”