Acceleration for open source cars?

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We could be closer to consumer options for open source cars than ever before. Which begs the question, could the recent floor mat entrapment and pedal recalls from Toyota be solved in a more open way? Or better yet, could they have been prevented if they were designed and built the open source way?

An article at Techdirt, "As Cars Get More Complicated, Maybe Open Source Is The Way," argues that Toyota could stand to gain more than it would potentially be giving away” while talking about open sourcing the software in their vehicles.

It's already happening with open source car projects like OScar.  The second version of OScar is now available from

“The idea behind the OScar project is simple: A community of people plans and develops a new car in the web. The idea is about the goal to develop a simple and innovative car, but also about the way how this goal is achieved.”

Alan Shimel is also talking about open source cars over at Network World: "Are You Ready For An Open Source Car? Software isn't the only thing open; open source could change the auto game."

Shimel writes, “The auto industry could be one place where open source hardware and design stand things on its head. The auto industry is certainly ready for change.” I agree. The auto industry seems stagnant. Particularly in the United States. Open source could change that. It could start with an open design, then open software, and even the assembly. It might even create jobs.

If the big automakers don't watch out, upcoming operations like Local Motors might be taking over.  They crowdsourced the design of their Rally Car as well as, “the selection of mostly off-the-shelf components, and the final assembly will be done by the customers themselves in local assembly centers,” wrote Chris Anderson in Wired magazine.

The idea of an open source car is just awesome, with potential benefits like better fuel-efficiency, faster innovation, and safer cars. An open design based on open standards could also lead to more interchangeable parts, which means more flexibility and choice to consumers.  Even with all this, I still think there are opportunities for the automakers to compete. It might be cool to build my own car, but I don't have the time. Do you?

The automakers' role could shift from telling me what kind of car they think I want, to customizing a car to my preferences, building, and delivering it. I'd still buy a car because of the brand, testing, and reputation of an automaker. But the open source approach could reduce the cost of their research and design, improve standards in the auto industry, and still allow them to brand their vehicles.

Jason Hibbets is a Community Director at Red Hat with the Digital Communities team. He works with the Enable Architect, Enable Sysadmin, Enterprisers Project, and community publications.


Also checkout an opensource car company that has built a hydrogen powered vehicle. One differentiating factor is that you can't own the River Simple car, you lease/borrow (I'm a bit fuzzy on details).

The goal of River Simple is to “To provide a sustainable transport service whilst working systematically towards the elimination of the environmental damage caused by personal transport”.

Car lovers want more than transport, they want an awesome ride and ownership experience - so River Simple is not a solution for all.

Local Motors is a solution for car lovers.

I'm excited to see new opensource car companies offering solutions in specific areas of automotive. Next stop for Local Motors? Aftermarket accessories. Since all of our chassis data is opensource, our community of designers, engineers and fabricators can create ANYTHING to fit atop the Rally Fighter - and soon they will be able to sell it right on the website.

Thanks for including Local Motors!


Jason, while not entirely open source. DIYautotune produces an ECU for vehicles that relies on opensource tuning software. I'm planning on picking one up for one of my vehicles shortly, but figured it deserved a mention. Sadly the hardware is proprietary, but that fact that the software my car will be running on is open source (and can power most cars), is pretty cool.

Thanks for sharing Rob. Here is the link for those interested:

Heard about this on NPR this morning--but seems like you're not the only one thinking this way, Jason., an automotive industry help site, is reportedly seeking to offer prize money for a "crowdsourced" solution to the acceleration issues. Here's the story covered in the Washington Post:

Edmunds also has a forum with a great deal of discussion on the topic:

And here's the actual announcement of their, er, plan:

Do note, the first line of the Post article refers to American Idol. This amuses me.

An interesting take on some of Toyota's recall issues:

"There is really only one way to clear the air, and that’s for Toyota to release its software code, letting anyone who is interested download it and test it themselves." -- <a href="" title="" target="blank">A Modest Proposal for Toyota: Release the Code!

Some months ago i read about fiat mio open source:

As much as I like the concept of open source in car manufacturing I don't think it will be a viable one, the costs will be too high to bear, this kind of project needs serious funding until the managers will be able to stimulate the demand. One nice open source car idea would be a car with a <a rel="follow" href="">free car insurance quote</a>, something tells me a lot of people would respond to that. I really hope he auto industry would change in the open source direction.

Your comment may infer this new open source car company will design, manufacture and deliver cars much the same way traditional automotive companies have done so for years.

If this is what you're thinking, then I agree with you.

But I do not think there is a reason to continue down a course we know is unsustainable.

Local Motors suggests a new approach to manufacturing (Micro-Manufacturing). This approach doubled with opens source methods of development allows us to temper and measure demand and deliver just-in-time.

This method allows us to deliver cars 5x faster with up to 100x less capital than traditional manufacturers.

As far as I know every car insurance company gives a free quote.


@Lorry I think the value in having an open design for cars will be in the cost savings for the actual design. There are too many variables, inefficiencies, and safety regulations for some-random-joe/jane to go build their own car.

For the legacy market, I think the efficiencies of existing companies can be leveraged to bring the resellers, distributors and manufacturing together. I don't disagree with you about "the costs will be too high to bear." We can reduce the costs by having open designs that could save even more costs in the long-term, with incremental improvements to those design by the automobile <em>community.</em>

I don't know the intricacies of the automobile industry, but I imagine a lot of time and money is spent on design, research, and testing. Does the future for car design include an open design where car manufacturers can share design information with open data and testing results? I hope so.

If those designs were open, car enthusiasts and mechanics from around the world could contribute real value to the next iteration of the car. The design would no longer be "in-house" and it would belong to the entire world.

I think it's safe to say that in the future, we'll still be buying cars based on brand and costs. So how is someone like Local Motors becoming successful? They said, hey, here's our design - it's open. We're going to make money by manufacturing the car and selling it--because most people don't want to build their own car, they want to customize it and drive it.

The power in this model is bringing together all the parts, putting them together, and supporting the end product. Red Hat does the same thing for Linux. They bring all the different pieces together and bundle it with services, distribution, and support. But you can go get all those pieces for free and do it yourself. But your time is probably valuable, so it's well worth it to pay an expert to do it for you.

Instead of making the entire car design open, an easier but high payback step is simply an open power standard for hybrid cars. I see three basic blocks of power generation, power storage, and chassis.

The open standard for storage would specify things like sustained and peak current, control interface, and physical size and shape and weight limits. This would allow many types of plug compatible storage using batteries, ultra-capacitors, ultra-flywheels, molten salt, etc.

The open standard for generation would specify minimum sustained current, control interface, air intake (if needed), exhaust, temperature limits, and physical size, shape and weight. This would allow many types of plug in generation like multi-fuel turbines, fuel cells, rotary engines (turbines and rotaries work well with constant RPM - which suits generation, but not direct drive).

The chassis includes electric motors, regenerative braking, and other components tightly coupled to mechanical form (including the overall look of the vehicle). The control and power protocols and cabling for primary power generation and storage are standardized, however, to allow plugin replacement of those modules.

There will probably need to be several sizes specified. For instance, bus sized storage units would have a larger form factor. Ultra-flywheels, for instance, would likely fit in the bus size, but not in the passenger car size.

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