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General Motors Announces its New Linux-based Vehicle Software Platform Called ‘Ultifi' That Will Reimagine Car Ownership

General Motors Announces its New Linux-based Vehicle Software Platform Called ‘Ultifi' That Will Reimagine Car Ownership

Author: Eric Walz   

Cars of the future will be more like connected devices on wheels and software-based, allowing customers to add new functions and features to their vehicles just as easily as downloading apps to a smartphone. Software based vehicles can also be kept up to date by receiving regular over-the-air updates to add new features and functionality. 

Building vehicles that are more like smartphones is a model pioneered in the auto industry by electric automaker Tesla, but now legacy automakers are making plans to transition to software based vehicles, the latest is U.S. automaker General Motors.

The company on Tuesday announced a new end-to-end vehicle software platform called "Ultifi" that will underpin its future vehicles. The platform was designed entirely in-house and will allow GM and its customers the ability to add new vehicle features and functions and personalization options so cusomters can make their vehicles an extension of their digital lives. 

With the Ultifi software platform, future GM customers will be able to subscribe to or unlock new vehicle features, such as the Supercruise automated driving feature or valet parking feature. 

These types of service can either be offered as a monthly subscription or as a one-time purchase. Another possible use of the Ultifi software platform is to unlock settings to increase vehicle performance, such as increasing the available battery power in an electric car. 

According to GM, Ultifi will enable the seamless delivery of software-defined features, apps and services that customers can add to their vehicles over the air. It also offers the potential for more cloud-based services, faster software development cycles and new opportunities for GM to generate revenue from add-on services.

Although GM's Ultifi is an in-house developed platform, the automaker will open it to authorized third-party developers to create software for future GM vehicles. Ultifi is built on Linux, one of the most widely used open source software platforms in the industry. 

Building Ultifi on Linux open source software allows GM to give authorized third-party developers access to innovate on behalf of its customers. The Ultifi software platform will open up an entire new ecosystem of software-based add-ons for future GM vehicles. 

The Ultifi software layer will enable accelerated development and deployment of new software OTA for millions of GM customers, without affecting core hardware controls of the vehicle, such as steering and braking.

Developers will have access to all of the necessary vehicle's controllers and actuators to create innovative vehicle software. However, the core vehicle functions will remain intact, since this software layer will not be available to outsiders for safety and security reasons.

Ultifi's functionality builds upon GM's Vehicle Intelligence Platform (VIP), which is the automaker's advanced electrical architecture that will underpin its future electric vehicles. The VIP platform offers over-the-air capability, enough bandwidth to process terabytes of data per hour, robust cybersecurity and ultra fast processing power. 

On top of this foundation, GM engineers will separate key software into a new centralized layer for Ultifi that acts as a powerful hub for vehicle systems, the company said. 

"GM has decades of experience writing vehicle software, creating a solid foundation to build on," said Mark Reuss, GM president. "Now with Ultifi, we will be able to improve our software continuously, and deliver new features and apps to customers in a fraction of the time."

Just like an Android or Apple smartphone, GM customers will receive regular updates and will be able to choose from a suite of over-the-air upgrades for their vehicles, including personalization options. In the future, GM's might offer an "app store" where customers can purchase and download GM or third party apps and download them right to their vehicle. 

The automaker says this level of vehicle customization will reimagine the ownership experience for future GM vehicles. Some of these upgrades and settings can even be saved to secure authenticated accounts that can be carried over to other GM vehicles, such as a driver's preferred vehicle settings for cabin temperature or the audio system.

Ultifi's Future Use Cases

Ultifi will utilize advanced cloud-based connectivity for access to more robust processing power. In the future internal cameras in GM vehicles could be used for facial recognition to start the vehicle's engine, or the same camera can utilize deep learning algorithms to detect the presence of children in the cabin and can automatically activate on the child safety locks in the rear doors. 

Other features can take advantage of new 5G-powered vehicle-to-everything (V2X) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technology. For example, based on route planning and GPS, teen driver settings could be automatically adjusted for extra caution in a school zone.

"Increased flexibility and faster software development are two major benefits of this new technology," said Scott Miller, GM vice president Software-Defined Vehicle. "Our in-house developers are designing Ultifi to maximize software reuse, which frees up more time to create value-adding features and services for our customers."

In addition, via 5G-powered communication with other connected vehicles and infrastructure such as traffic lights, drivers of GM vehicles with the Ultifi software platform could be alerted in real time to changing road conditions. For example, an icy road warning can be sent to all nearby connected GM vehicles alerting drivers to slow down.

Future software-based GM vehicles can connect to a city's traffic lights, helping drivers avoid red lights by prompting them to maintain the correct speed and ensure that the light is green when they approach an intersection. 

There is even the ability to connect with smart homes and other IoT devices. Future GM vehicles might communicate with homes to automatically deactivate the security system and adjust the home's thermostat as the driver arrives. The cloud connectivity of Ultifi could potentially extend to V2X or vehicle-to-everything safety applications to help advance GM's goal of zero crashes. 

There are many future uses for the Ultifi vehicle software platform which haven't been imagined yet.

The Ultifi software platform will be enabled by adding the necessary hardware to select vehicles starting in 2023. Ultifi will be available for both internal combustion and fully electric GM vehicles.

GM is not alone in its new initiative to create software defined vehicles. Other legacy automakers are also introducing similar software based vehicle technology that supports OTA updates for the life of the vehicle. 

In June 2020, Mercedes Benz announced that it's developing an entirely new software-based architecture that supports OTA updates for its next generation vehicle fleet using NVIDIA's AI-powered DRIVE platform.

The Mercedes-Benz software-based vehicle architecture will be introduced beginning with 2024 model year vehicles, eventually rolling out to the entire Mercedes Benz fleet globally. 

GM's domestic rival Ford Motors Co is also building new software defined vehicles, beginning with the Mach-E electric SUV which supports OTA updates and cloud connectivity, as well as in the new Ford upcoming F-150 Lightning electric truck.

In August, Hyundai Motor Group announced a new partnership with Silicon Valley-based software developer Sonatus. The two companies will work to develop software defined vehicles for Hyundai and its other brands Kia and Genesis. 

Ultifi will also allow GM to unlock new revenue streams, by letting customers add new features and function to their vehicles as a monthly subscription or as a one-time purchase. 

GM declined to say how much revenue its expects to generate from the Ultifi software platform, but its potential could be significant as the auto industry moves towards electrification, connectivity and autonomous driving.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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