Open Source Opens the Space for Innovation

Michael Plagge is Vice President Ecosystem Development at the Eclipse Foundation. He is responsible for the maintenance and growth of the Eclipse ecosystem. At the International VDI Congress ELIV, he will report on the Foundation's current projects and take part in a panel discussion on the topic of open source. In the run-up to the event, he answers our questions.

Mr. Plagge, in your opinion, is the automotive industry now united behind open source software development?

In my opinion, the automotive industry agrees that a modern car cannot be realized without open source (OSS). Therefore, the use of OSS projects and components is now possible and desired in all areas of the automotive industry. I think the situation is still different when it comes to jointly developing relevant parts from the non-competitive differentiating part of the software stack.

Parts of the automotive industry have come to the conclusion that such cooperation is necessary for a variety of reasons. Other market players, however, still believe that they must take full responsibility for implementing such a stack themselves. In some cases, the "fault lines" between these positions even run within the major automotive companies.

Overall, a mindset change is still necessary for most organizations from the traditional automotive industry. And this is not limited to technical development, but encompasses the entire organization, such as purchasing and general processes.

Does this pro-open software view come from an inner drive - or has this change in thinking been accelerated more by external factors such as competitive and cost pressures, inflation or the continuing tight procurement situation?

The "pro OS" view was initially driven more by external factors. In addition to the aforementioned reasons, I would also mention the lack of specialists and developers, for example. Increasingly, however, an internal drive can also be recognized. In many cases, it was recognized that open, transparent and vendor-neutral cooperation can massively accelerate innovation. Against the backdrop of OS-driven developments in the area of cloud and artificial intelligence, where open collaboration has often served as a catalyst for innovation, more and more organizations are asking themselves whether this could and should not also be possible in the automotive sector.

What key opportunities and expectations do you associate with open source software development for the automobile of tomorrow?

An industry-wide platform for the non-competitively differentiating part of the software stack and associated development toolchain, which is not under the control of a single or a few players but is developed by a broad community of companies, would in my view bring a variety of benefits:

  • Focus on the competitively differentiating parts of the software stack. Focusing of limited existing resources on end-user relevant functions and increased quality in software
  • Independence from individual or a few large players that dominate the platforms today
  • Leveraging expertise and contributions from broad areas (automotive, cloud, software) that are jointly incorporated into OS projects
  • More opportunities for SMEs to position themselves with innovations, as porting and migration efforts are reduced or, in the best case, eliminated altogether

How will partnerships along the value chain be reorganized?

Partnerships between OEMs and suppliers, for example, are likely to become much simpler. One key advantage is that the highly specialized knowledge required today and the resources tied up with it, which do not usually contribute to value creation, will be significantly reduced. Freed-up resources can thus be used in other, relevant areas.

Do legal framework conditions, for example from antitrust or liability law, make it difficult to think of open source across manufacturers?

I don't think so. The use of open source components is standard practice in the automotive industry today. The only new question that arises is whether the new form of collaboration and the contribution to open source might lead to new legal issues. As of today, however, we do not see this happening. For example, collaboration in open source projects in particular is on the "safe side" in terms of antitrust law and thus much easier than in "closed consortia".

Keyword "Fit for OSS": What is necessary to also enable SMEs to participate in open source development?

I believe that OSS often creates the conditions for SMEs to become active in the automotive ecosystem in the first place. Today, you would need access to proprietary OEM-specific interfaces to integrate functions into a vehicle, for example. But in my view, open source is not enough. Open source within the framework of a foundation like the Eclipse Foundation is needed to create a jointly usable platform and to make it easier for medium-sized companies to access the market. The added value of the Eclipse Foundation is to create a clearly defined, open, transparent and neutral framework for collaboration and the contributions of the individual partners. All things that are usually not regulated within the framework of open source licenses.

How is the Eclipse Foundation set up, can you please describe more details about its work?

Of course. The Eclipse Foundation is a member-based, independent, non-profit foundation based in Brussels with the legal form of an AISBL that provides individuals and organizations with a mature, scalable, and enterprise-friendly environment for open source software collaboration and innovation. It hosts the Eclipse IDE, Jakarta EE and over 415 other open source projects, specifications and frameworks in many technology areas, including cloud and edge applications, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, automotive, systems engineering. Bosch, SAP, Mercedes, Cariad, BMW, as well as Microsoft and RedHat are among the more than 320 members.


Michael Plagge, Vice President Ecosystem Development, Eclipse Foundation, Berlin