The huge volume of software on vehicles gives automakers the ability to upgrade systems after vehicles are sold, but updates must generally be done using cabled systems that can be costly. A partnership between Red Bend Software and Vector gives automakers the ability to perform over-the-air updates with tools now used in mobile phones.
Red Bend’s Firmware Over-the-Air (FOTA) Update Installer is being integrated with Vector’s Flash Bootloader, which is used in a number of electronic control units. The partnership was created to help automakers update programs and fix bugs. Many vehicles now have as many as 100 million lines of code, which has caused a number of software-related recalls.
Red Bend’s FOTA software, which has been used on more than 1 billion cell phones, can shorten the amount of time needed to update programs or fix bugs. It removes the need to hook up cables while eliminating hardware needed by maintenance facilities. It also transfers less data than conventional systems that erase the version in the vehicle and replace it with the new program.
“We provide a PC-based tool that analyzes the differences between the installed version and the new version. It generates a delta file with the difference and sends it over the air via cellular or Wi-Fi,” said Lori Sylvia, Executive Vice President of Marketing at Red Bend. “Once the delta file is received, our software in the car updates the program.”
Eventually, these updates may be delivered to cars wherever they are, much like cell phones are updated. Until then, owners will bring their vehicles to dealers. Updating times will be shorter, since technicians no longer have to wheel carts into the bay, hook up cables, and download the full files.
Market analysts say that car buyers who understand FOTA technology from cell phones understand the value it can bring to the automotive industry.
“Over the air software updates now show up in the five most desired apps,” said Thilo Koslowski, Automotive Vice President at Gartner. “We also did studies of dealers, and about 40% like the idea if they’re involved.”
Dealers will probably perform updates until OEMs are certain that FOTA is foolproof. Sylvia noted that automakers have already begun using FOTA technology for infotainment systems. Infotainment changes rapidly, so updates are likely to be more common there than in many other systems.
“We’ve already got a partnership with QNX Software that lets OEMs update infotainment systems over the air,” she said. “With Vector we’re extending that to any electronic control unit that uses Vector’s Flash Bootloader. That ranges from complex modules to simple controllers that manage turn signals.”