Eclipse in Automotive

If you have been following the Eclipse memberships, you might have noticed that a lot of automotive companies have become members in the past few years. Why is that? Automotive engineering has changed a lot in the last decade. Most of the innovation today is in the software of the vehicle, so software engineering is a major part in the development process. In the early days of the shift to software, development departments often claimed that their core competencies where in the development of a function, and not in the tooling. So some tried to use only "standard" COTS tools, but that approach is limited. As soon as you develop new innovative functions with new innovative methods, standard tools will lag behind and you will need something specific to support your new ideas and methods. Custom tooling actually is an important expertise and Eclipse is the perfect platform for both developing custom tooling as well as integrating with commercial tools.

Key Eclipse technologies

Eclipse provides key technologies for building tooling for the automotive software domain. Modern electronic control unit (ECU) development is a complex activity that requires a lot of different artifacts like software architecture, network definition, diagnosis information, and basic software configuration.

The Eclipse Modeling provides a rich infrastructure to manage the software engineering data. Here are some of the main projects and frameworks used for automotive:

  • Eclipse Modeling Framework (EMF): provides a very good basis to implement the data model for many of those artefacts and integrate them with existing systems. This has been recognized by the Artop project, that provides an implementation of the AUTOSAR meta-model based on EMF. It also provides easy integration of any other data models that are based on XML for example. Standard formats like Fibex can be easily used with the powerful frameworks that build on EMF, as well as in-house data models that are being developed from scratch.
  • Sphinx: provides a lot of helpful model management functions on top of that.
  • Xtext: is well integrated with EMF and provide means to process existing text based formats and adds a lot of functionality to support comfortable editing of those configuration files to the end user.
  • CDO: allows EMF models to be easily stored in 3-tier architectures with commercial SQL-databases, if required by company IT policy.
  • A number of other data backends (EMFStore, Teneo, etc.).

On top of that, there is a variety of projects for creating great user interfaces for these models. Xtext is very popular, since its textual domain specific languages approach resonates well with a technical audience. EMF Forms, Extended Editing Framework (EEF) and others cater for the needs of the form-based target audience and with Remote Application Platform (RAP) you can even take your application to the web. And the latest addition to the family, the Sirius project, reduces the effort for creating graphical/diagram editors significantly.

Well integrated with that are a number of Eclipse projects to process that data. For the actual ECU, the data has to be transformed in formats like AUTOSAR, configuration files, or actual C code. Users can choose from a variety of Model-To-Model- and Model-To-Text transformation tools like QVTO, ATL, Acceleo, Xtend, etc. that are well suited for the development of specific tools and tool integrations. The projects listed are only a fragment of the entire rich infrastructure available.

Why build on Eclipse?

The business case for building automotive tools on the Eclipse platform is obvious: There is hardly any other infrastructure project that provides so many components that are essential for the implementation of automotive tools. The competitive advantage is not in building that infrastructure, but in the software engineering innovations built on top of that. Instead of investing in proprietary tools to store, process, compare, edit and integrate engineering data, the budget can be spent on the parts that add value to your tool chain.

Apart from the technical advantages, the Eclipse Foundation and Eclipse Public License are also key factors. The automotive industry (as many other industry) pay attention to the legal aspects of using open software. The Foundation with its IP process and the EPL make the usage of Eclipse commercially attractive. That also has the effect that we see more and more automotive companies contributing to the Eclipse projects directly or indirectly.

A lot of in-house tools and tool chain integration in the automotive domain are already based on Eclipse. The current strong activities in the Eclipse platform projects for the Mars release show that Eclipse is a stable platform as well as actively maintained. And the Eclipse Foundation is an attractive organization for initiatives that want to cooperate in a well-established legal framework - the automotive openMDM working group for measured data management is the latest example.

About the Authors

andreas graf

Andreas Graf
itemis AG