Open-Source Electric Cars? Umm, No, NOT A Good Idea

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2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

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In the world of software, open source is officially A Good Thing.

It enables a far greater creative and technological base to tweak and change a piece of software than might be possible from within the company that created it.

Many are keen on the concept of open source electric cars--that is, electric cars where the built-in software can be tweaked, parameters can be changed, and in theory, the cars can be improved. Only it's a really, really bad idea.

As Gigaom illustrates, think of it as the difference between Google and Apple. Google is very much supportive of open source, allowing developers across the world to come up with complementary software to its systems.

Apple is more of a closed system--an iPhone is like a tight-knit community of programs that all work seamlessly with one another, but the software is very much limited to Apple products alone.

Naturally, you might favour the open-source approach--but is that really what you want in an electric car?

It's a cliché, but the closed system of Apple products "just works". Start introducing third-party software and you often find it bug-ridden and prone to crashing.

That's fine--if irritating--on a computer or smartphone, but "bug-ridden and prone to crashing" aren't the sort of characteristics we like to see in cars. Particularly "prone to crashing", both in a technological and a literal sense.

If a car has been designed to do its job, but an open source system lets people tweak it, what happens when the car shuts down in the middle of the highway and causes a pile-up? Or decides one day that it won't open any of the doors for you?

Even carmakers themselves have trouble with software--Fisker has issued a recall and apology recently with its Karma--so allowing average Joe to tweak the car's inner workings seems like a bad idea. Changing the characteristics of an electric car isn't as simple as re-jetting the carbs or swopping out the air filter...

That's not to say that all open sourcing in EVs would be a bad thing--there'd doubtless be people able to improve their cars in ways we never thought possible, who freely release their tweaks on the internet for all to benefit from.

As Gigaom points out though, the electric car cannot be open source in the short term, if it's to go mainstream. The DIY community has its merits, but for companies to make money from electric cars, the cars themselves need to be a stable platform.

Tesla Motors--so similar to Apple in many ways--could be the best illustration of the merits of a closed system when it comes to electric cars.

The automotive and technological worlds will no doubt be following the company's progress closely, determining whether its high-end values replicate Apple's success in an automotive environment.

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