OTA updating brings benefits, challenges

  • 14-Aug-2016 03:23 EDT
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Over-the-air updating technologies are being developed by a range of suppliers such as Movimento.


The race to build up an infrastructure for over-the-air (OTA) updating is heating up as suppliers go all-out to gain a spot in a field that’s expected to see momentous growth. Warranty costs, cyber security and the expectations of smart phone users are among the factors driving developments throughout the supply chain.

OTA is quickly moving beyond the luxury vehicles typified by Tesla’s highly-publicized usage. Cummins added OTA capabilities on its X12 and X15 heavy-duty engine lines, which will ship in 2017. Cummins Connected Calibrations permits wireless engine tuning and calibration in the field.

To date, most efforts in OTA updating has focused on infotainment and telematic systems. Cummins’ move highlights the broad applications that are expected to show up in the next few years. Some analysts feel that controlling warranty costs will be a key driving force for the field.

“In the past two years, software has accounted for a significant portion of recalls, and I daresay 2016 will show a higher percentage of recalls for software issues,” Roger Lanctot of Strategy Analytics said in a recent webinar. “A key factor for OEMs is warranty cost avoidance.”

As connectivity expands, hacking and other threats will also fuel demand for OTA. Security programs will have to evolve to meet new threats over the vehicle’s lifetime. The expectations of consumers used to adding functionality to smart phones is another factor fueling growth projections. That’s forcing engineering teams to address a number of different needs.

“OEMs need people who look at adding capabilities two or three years after the design is completed,” said Yoram Berholtz, Director of Business Development at Argus Cyber Security. “This will be a new paradigm for design teams. Telematic and infotainment hardware will also need to change, more memory and more computing power will be needed.”

The huge volume of software and the number of controllers on vehicles make updating a far more complex task than revising handheld computing platforms. Hardware and software from many different suppliers will have to work together in an environment with extremely high quality and reliability levels.

“Automakers never get all their components from a single Tier 1,” said Scott Frank, Airbiquity’s Vice President of Marketing. “They have multiple software tools and multiple software installers, so they need a central management function to pull all that together.”

Building a complete OTA system requires plenty of work inside and outside the vehicle. On-board systems will have to have extra storage space to hold both updates and older software that can be used as a fallback if problems arise. Architectures will have to support communications from the cloud down to individual ECUs.

“Flattening the architecture makes sure that each particular endpoint in the car can authenticate to the cloud individually,” said Mahbubul Alam, CTO at Movimento. “What has been done between the cloud is we are getting more CPUs connecting to the cloud and more CPUs into the vehicle and deeper into the vehicle."

This is not only for infotainment but goes deeper to enable encryption. "They can put the crypto-algorithms directly where the source is and protect the data as it is delivered to end points in the car,” Alam explained.

Communications channels are another important aspect for developers. Cellular links can cost consumers money, so many strategists say that Wi-Fi might be a good option. That’s partially because the network’s short distances mean that cars will be parked at home or offices.

However, the costs of cellular aren’t expected to be large enough to impact owners who don’t utilize Wi-Fi.

“Most people plan to do a lot of updating via Wi-Fi, though there will be instances where software is updated over the cellular link,” Lanctot of Strategy Analytics said. “In most cases, the payloads will be small enough that there won’t be concern for the cost of a cellular connection.”

Concerns about payment will probably be dwarfed by privacy issues. Once buyers own the vehicle, they can have a say in what happens to it. Issues like recalls and notifications will be closely examined in public forums.

“Will consumers have to pay for updates? Will consumers have to be notified before updates are downloaded?" Lanctot asserted. "For recalls, there may be further notification involved. Privacy will be an important factor.”

Though updates sent to vehicles are widely discussed, observers note that pulling information from vehicles is important for OEMs. In addition to maintenance information that can be sent to dealers, automakers will collect data on consumer preferences and components. This input will help them see how new products are being used and how components perform.

“With a new car, you may want to run checks every day to see how new parts are working,” Frank said. “You may only check every month for an older vehicle.”

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