Kazuo Kajimoto
Senior Distinguished Engineer

1. OSS becomes mainstream of SW development

Recently, OSS (Open Source Software) becomes more and more popular and OSS is big mainstream of software improvement now. OSS is maintained and updated by many contributors through internet and managed by virtual organizations named “community”. One of the OSS, Linux is very successful OSS which is utilized as de fact standard OS in home appliances, communication products and data centers.

OSS is distributed with source code which is treated as one of important design document of software. So, developers can utilize almost all downloaded OSS and add small new features of their core idea, then developers can implement big system with OSS easily by less man-power. So, OSS becomes mainstream of software development.

And a developer thinks of new idea and adds it to OSS and positively open it to community. Then many participants of the community willing to use it, that is, the new idea becomes de facto easier than making effort to make it popular by himself. So, many companies in almost all countries except Japan are willing to invest and contribute OSS upgrade with their new ideas. Unfortunately, many Japanese companies do not take care OSS contribution because the OSS contribution ROI is invisible and a little bit long term and complex way.

2. Renesas’ OSS activity

SoC (System on Chip) works with high performance CPU cores and big DRAM memory space and it is expected to process many application software simultaneously. So, SoC requires high functional OS (Operating System) such as Linux.

When customers plan some application software PoC (Proof of Concept) on SoC, most of customers choose Linux as OS because its rich ecosystem with many tools, many solutions and many experts. So, if downloaded Linux runs without any customize on Renesas’s SoC, customers can save time to do PoC. And Renesas expects customers to choose Renesas’s SoC not only PoC but also final products.

To realize that downloaded Linux runs without customize on SoC, Renesas continues to contribute source code patches to Linux community. This activity is called “upstream” and/or “contribution”. And many patches by Renesas is adopted mainline of Linux kernel source code. There is a web site to indicate what companies contribute Linux kernel update. From 2006, the website says Renesas is top 10 of contributors as of January 2021. Fig 1 shows the ranking list. 

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Fig.1 The ranking of Linux contribution

And Renesas also developed “R-Car Starter Kit” for customers and general OSS experts to develop Linux environment for automotive industry.

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Fig.2 R-Car Starter Kit

The guidance of R-Car starter kit and Linux software package for R-Car starter kit have been opened at Wiki site in internet. When customers buy R-Car starter kit, it is easy to set up development environment by accessing this Wiki site.

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Fig.3 Top page of R-Car starter kit’s Wiki site

There is also a community named AGL (Automotive Grade Linux) which aims to port generic Linux for automotive industry. And AGL has been set up under Linux Foundation.

In this AGL community, Renesas is one of platinum members and actively contributes to post source code patches, makes direction of AGL updates and so on. AGL defines “AGL reference hardware” specifications and opens it. And Renesas’s R-Car starter kit is approved by AGL community to meet AGL reference hardware specifications, and it is adopted one of standard AGL development environments. (related article)

Big events such as CES, AGL community always sets up promotion booth. In the AGL booth, most of AGL members show their latest solution demonstration on R-Car starter kit.

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Fig.4 AGL booth with many customers at CES2019

AGL community consists of many OEM companies, Tier1 companies and solution/tool partners. So, whole supply chain members in automotive industry cooperate to progress AGL. And every member adopts the software by AGL community for its products. AGL announces the important message that many companies adopt AGL. So AGL is one of very successful OSS project. (related article).

The more popular AGL becomes, the more R-Car get Design In. This is good example of business model over OSS.

3. The OSS contribution strategy

Again, I would like to mention why AGL defines reference hardware specifications. OSS is mainstream of software development now. Then it is very important for every software engineer in the world to join OSS development. This means that the target hardware which OSS runs is available everywhere in the world. So, the target hardware should be fixed to PC, smartphone and virtual machine in data center. Those types of hardware is de facto standard as target machine.

But for embedded software, the software substantially works tightly with very specific hardware. So, on order to develop AGL in the world, AGL community should define global common hardware environment according to community consensus. (related document).

And it is very important that the common hardware specifications do not depend on specific company hardware specifications. Moreover, customers who utilize OSS not willing to be locked in specific vendor’s hardware. As a result, the OSS becomes independent from any hardware vendors’ specifications.

Because OSS is independent from specific hardware, many software engineers can join the OSS community, after that, there are not only OSS itself but also peripheral tools, middleware and so on. Then OSS and related software becomes rich ecosystem. So, customers choose OSS instead of former vender locked software for “time to market” reason. It is required for semiconductor companies to join OSS ecosystem. This OSS activity is cooperative area for semiconductor companies. For customers, OSS provides “easier to develop” environments and its ecosystem benefit to scale out customers’ business model. (“easier to scale”)

On the other hand, the performance, power consumption, functional safety, security and so on of the system with OSS deeply depends on hardware and low level software such as hypervisor and device drivers. Customers choose semiconductor according to the balance between cost and its performance and so on. This area is competitive area for semiconductor companies. Hardware and low level software provides customers “easier to differentiate”.

Renesas OSS contribution strategy is as follows.

  1. Renesas joins and leads OSS community and contributes to make the OSS more attractive. And Renesas promotes OSS to tool vendors, solution vendors and customers, then the OSS and related software become easier to develop software ecosystem. 
  2. Many customers choose the OSS because there are many development tools and solutions. 
  3. When customers create solution software with the OSS, if the OSS runs on Renesas’s semiconductors and low level software, it is available for customers higher performance, lower power consumption, functional safety and secured environment under reasonable cost.

So, Renesas continues to invest and contribute OSS development nevertheless it is not competitive area. This concept is shown in Fig.5

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Fig.5 OSS based cooperative ecosystem and competitive semiconductor business model

It is the very point to operate OSS contribution in cooperative area and semiconductor competitive area with consistency. Renesas will continue to OSS be de fact and scale customers’ business in the future, at the same time, Renesas provides customers easier differentiate solutions with semiconductors and low level software.

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