Together with Zemotor today we will try to figure out what is happening in Tesla in relation to the GPL license. Tesla's source code, including some of the software it uses in its cars, has finally been released, and for good reason.

You may not have realized it, but many of the services and devices they use would not be possible without free software; code that has been freely published by its creators so that others can reuse it.

Unfortunately, there are also many companies that take the "open source" philosophy as "free everything"; and they use code without complying with the license or without contributing to the community. And until now, Tesla was one of those companies.

Tesla's source code and some of its tools have been released

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Tesla uses a lot of open sources, open-source programs; from the operating system that their cars use, based on the Linux kernel, to other tools such as Buildroot, which allows creating Linux systems for embedded systems (such as those in a car), or QT, a graphical library used in desktop environments such as KDE.

But until now, Tesla had taken advantage of the work of those and other projects, in breach of the GPL license in which they had been published.

A common misunderstanding with open source code is that we can do whatever we want without any limitation; but really, it depends on the license. For example, some require that if we modify the code and use it in a product, we also have to release our modifications; or they also require users who purchase the product to receive the source code.

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Tesla uses open source platforms for some of the technologies in its electric cars, but they have never published the code before. Linux and BusyBox are some of the platforms they use, and one of the company's obligations, according to the GPL license, is precisely what they have just fulfilled: publishing part of the source code that is used for their electric propulsion vehicles. That ‘part’ is the one corresponding to the automatic pilot system –the imaging system-, that of NVIDIA Tegra and that of the AutoPilot motherboards.

One of the sections of the GNU GPL, the license for open source software used by Tesla, provides for an obligation to share source code. The company chaired by Elon Musk, after some time using this software, has made public part of the open-source source code. The one that uses the AutoPilot imaging system, that of the motherboard of the same autonomous driving technology, and that of the NVIDIA Tegra system that its electric cars also have. All this is already available on GitHub, in the profile that the American company has.

Tesla publishes the open-source source code of its electric cars, does this pose any risk to your technology?

The source code published by Tesla corresponds only to some ‘parts’ of the technology that its electric cars have, both the Tesla Model X and the S and 3. And more specifically, the majority of the automatic piloting system. This is in no way a risk to owners of Tesla vehicles. It is not a risk that opens the doors for hackers to attack the autonomous driving system of their cars, which would be the most worrying thing, and in no case can they put the company's intellectual property at risk. Quite simply, it has allowed them to comply with the GNU GPL licenses.

And all this means that the 'core parts' of AutoPilot-related code that have been published can be studied and analyzed, and in a way could be applied in other projects. But not in the same way, and not for commercial purposes.

It is not a secret that part of the technologies of the Tesla Model S and Model X, including the famous Autopilot, is based on the Linux and BusyBox platforms. An open-source system that is subject to the GPL license, which forces the Californian firm to publish a part of the source code, something that it had not done until now in relation to the software of the Model S and Model X 2018.12. This code includes the configuration of the Tesla Autopilot system, the motherboard, and the NVIDIA Tegra system.

One of the sections of the GPL license that regulates the license of open source software that Tesla uses contemplates that the brand must share the source code and make it public, in this case on the company's profile on GitHub. In this way, any user can access and see the code that regulates the Autopilot image system, that of the motherboard that regulates autonomous driving, and the NVIDIA Tegra system that serves to give life to the infotainment system of the American brand.

In fact, Tesla has issued a statement regarding this movement in which it explains that it intends to release more parts of its open-source in the near future, all in collaboration with the Software Freedom Conservancy -SFC-, a non-profit organization that preserves and provides infrastructure for free and open-source software projects, as well as ensuring that it is in the public domain. In this regard, Tesla has been working with SFC since 2013, since the first Model S already had technology based on Linux and BusyBox.

While SFC and other organizations in favor of open source license pressure Tesla to have NVIDIA and Parrot also publish the source code they use in the firm's models, the publication of this 'open-source' source code has raised doubts. on the safety of electric cars and their owners. However, they can rest easy since only parts of the code that regulates the Autopilot image, its software, or the infotainment system are published, there is no risk that hackers can attack the Autopilot system.

Since 2013, the Software Freedom Conservancy group has lobbied Tesla to follow the GPL license, which requires these and other steps; and it seems that he has finally managed to convince the company, at least in part.

Tesla has released the source code for some of the tools it has used for its car systems; At the moment, there are only two: a modified version of Buildroot and the version of the Linux kernel used by Tesla, which has been published on Github.

In this case, Buildroot is used to implement the Tesla Autopilot; and the Linux kernel has been modified to work on Nvidia's Tegra systems implemented in the Tesla Model S and Model X. 

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