The problem: Customer lock-in

Remarkably, bicycles are still barebone analog devices. But many embedded innovations are being developed in this domain, such as electronically controlled gear shifting and suspension. The major driving momentum for innovation however are pedelecs – pedal assisted electric vehicles, often simply called e-bikes. The CEO of Bosch eBike Systems predicts that electric bikes eventually will account for 50% of the total bike market, thereby outnumbering conventional cars across Europe.

Bicycles are traditionally very modular and it is usual for consumers to replace, fix or add parts by themselves. First and foremost: it is possible to do this with a simple screw driver. But this will no longer be the case with e-suspension, e-shifting, e-braking, and e-biking, just like it is no longer the case today for sewing machines or for the cars we own. The root cause is the embedded software running in these devices.

Proprietary embedded software is tailor-made, and is only configurable to the extent foreseen by the OEM. That embedded software may malevolently pollute the environment (as it happened in the Volkswagen emissions scandal), or induce safety- or security-relevant problems. For instance, proprietary embedded power managment software has been traced to be the root of unintended and partly dangerous malfunctionings of

Generally speaking, the embedded software induces that the user looses control and understanding of the product owned. The customer gets locked out of it, but locked-in on the OEM or unit-supplier for products, maintenance and services.

The core of this lock-in is the proprietary embedded software. In a world where embedded software is perfectly free of bugs and highly customisable by the user, this problem is non-existent. Unfortunately, our world is different. In particular, there are good reasons for assuming that embedded software shipped with any modern product is not perfect at shipping time. Is this the price to pay for innovation? Is open source embedded software a way out?

Read on to learn about the way forward.