Nearly 125 years ago, German inventor Karl Benz introduced his Patentmotorwagen Number 1, the world's first automobile designed to be propelled by a motor. Twenty years ago, Finnish computer science student Linus Torvalds posted on the Internet...Ok, ok, you know the rest.
But fast forward to November 28, 2011, in a conference center overlooking picturesque Yokohama Bay  (in Yokohama/Japan and not on Oahu/Hawaii for the surfers among you), and we begin to see these two worlds collide in collaboration for the future of computing. The Linux Foundation yesterday hosted the first-ever Automotive Linux Summit , a conference designed to bring together experts from the automotive industry and Linux and open source software community.
The event's morning keynotes illustrated nicely why the traditional and rather conservative automotive industry is looking to join forces with Linux.
Reason one, said Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin in his opening keynote, is customer expectations. "I want to have Internet access in my car! Why can't my car that costs so much do what my smartphone can do?" The automotive industry has to catch up with consumer electronics and mobile devices, and Linux is the only system that can jump from one application to another by leveraging previous innovation.
Reason two, it saves money. It is the price pressure of innovation. Software complexity is driving cost but that complexity is mostly invisible to the end user, as it should be. The user is paying for applications and services valuable to him or her and not for operating systems and middleware. Although necessary, they don't provide any differentiation. Linux provides the ideal foundation for collaboration on non-differentiating, but necessary, functionality.
Reason three, the car is not an island anymore but connected and part of a greater information and communication technology infrastructure. Carmakers are looking to provide telematics and other value-added services to create additional revenue streams beyond the original vehicle sale. They need instrumentation to collect data, network servers to gather and store the data, supercomputers to analyze and process the data, and devices to display and present the data. Linux has already been deployed in many similiar applications where huge amounts of data are processed (such as smart electricity grids), giving the automotive industry instant value without having to reinvent the wheel.
That is precisely one of the reasons Toyota is committed to Linux . "We are not information and communication technology experts," said Ken-ichi Murata, Toyota's project general manager and chief engineer for next generation multi-media and telematics systems, during his keynote. "But we need systems that scale all the way, from embedded to data processing, to be able to deliver our vision of the connected car."
(You can get a glimpse of how Toyota envisions the integration of cars into the mobile lifestyle of the near future from this video  that he showed during his presentation.)
Indicating a full understanding of open collaboration, Graham Smethurst, GENIVI president and head of infotainment architecture design at BMW, said that "when it comes to in-vehicle infotainment then, our competition is not so much Toyota and other carmakers but the consumer electronics industry." That clearly underlines how the paradigms are shifting.
In another keynote speech, Juha-Matti Liukkonen, CTO of device creation at Symbio, outlined that next generation IVI systems require a fundamentally new approach for their development and challenged the audience. "Nobody has yet done an 'Apple' in automotive! However, I am sure somebody, and potentially somebody in this room, will soon. Apple created disruption. It is about the user experience: intuitive, connected and personal."
Next generation IVI systems must allow users to leverage their existing investment in gadgets and use their online identities. They must integrate with users' devices smoothly while harnessing the advantages of the unique environment of the vehicle. Cars should not just be docking stations for brought-in devices. It is interesting to see how this is independently aligned with Toyota's vision shown in its video, where the personal electronic assistant seamlessly integrates with the electric vehicle.
The morning keynotes were followed by an afternoon of 16 breakout sessions in four tracks, a keynote on the Linux kernel development process delivered by stable kernel tree maintainer Greg Kroah-Hartman, and a closing panel discussion moderated by Jim Zemlin.
The breakout sessions covered a wide range of topics from business, technology, and open source licensing and compliance. As a "newbie" in open source, the automotive industry is learning about the variety of licensing options and how to ensure compliance. Hence, the sessions in the compliance track were filled to the last seat. HTML 5 was also a hot topic that packed its sessions rooms, as well as the Yocto Project  sessions.
Back in the filled keynote room, Greg Kroah-Hartman stunned the audience with numbers on the Linux kernel: 2,889 developers and 358 companies are contributing to the kernel making an average of 5.44 changes every hour. Even the interpreter was surprised. Greg elaborated how each patch is reviewed at least two times by different people, demonstrating unsurpassed quality assurance for any software project.
"I am reviewing over 5,000 patches every year. Please understand that I sometimes get grumpy," said Greg. Asked how he does that, he humbly offered, "that's what we do." Talk about commitment.
A panel discussion with Toshiro Muramatsu, chief service architect at Nissan, Ken-ichi Murata and Graham Smethurst moderated by Jim Zemlin concluded the official program of Automotive Linux Summit. Asked by Jim what his two wishes for Linux and the community are, Graham said "Please accept amateurism. We are not experts in open source, not yet. But we are committed."
"We are learning", said Ken-ichi, "and learning how to do open source is one of the reasons why we joined The Linux Foundation."
Once again, the penguin is going to transform yet another industry. If you missed this year's Automotive Linux Summit the presenters' slides will be made available shortly on The Linux Foundation events website .