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USA: Why you don’t want your electric car to be open source

I’ve recently seen a rise in the discussion about the open source movement around electric cars, and cars in general. This article in GreenBiz looks at an open source project for plug-in vehicles called Tumanako and the open source car design and manufacturing project Local Motors has been around for awhile. While these projects are all well and good (I fully support the open source movement in general), for the electric car to be a mainstream success it needs to follow the closed Apple model, not the open Google model.

If you’re not techie insider, I’ll briefly rehash the Google/Apple scenario. Google has long had a philosophy of making systems and software open and transparent, which in theory leads to the ability to tap into the minds of more and more developers — the idea is that the collective wisdom and passionate creators will deliver the best stuff out of the crowd. Apple, on the other hand, supports a closed system as a way toward better design and simplicity — Apple gadgets just work seamlessly, like magic, but they’re tightly controlled and mostly only work within their own ecosystems.

The mainstream electric car needs to support the closed, magic — it just works! — model. Why? First off, there’s little room for beta software mistakes in the automotive transportation world. An electric car that shuts down or freezes up because of half-baked software is the equivalent of a lawsuit or a PR nightmare.

Fisker Karmas

Electric car startup Fisker Automotive (which is not open source at all) has struggled in recent months partly because of software glitches, leading to some of its early adopter customers venting online, and a variety of negative press. The equivalent of Google launching a beta project onto the web, and the ecosystem of developers playing with and perfecting the tool, doesn’t really work for a mainstream car.


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