Better Updates for Connected Cars with OTA Technology

By 2023, more than 76 million connected vehicles will be sold worldwide. Each of these will continuously communicate with other vehicles and various systems via cellular networks. Over-the-Air (OTA) technology allows the immediate and simultaneous update of in-vehicle software of all such connected cars, whether on the road or in the dealership. There will be routine OTA updates as a key method of maintaining the entire system, with new configurations and settings, as well as entire new functions and services. Read on to see how this will become possible.

Over-the-Air Update Overview

OTA technology enables updating of configurations, services, or applications using a cellular network. From a business standpoint, OTA updates enable internet of things development company to function and remain “out in the wild” or in service without needing to recall equipment.

From a technical standpoint, developers can use the OTA system to improve software functions, patch vulnerabilities, and fix bugs. The developers would upload their updates to a designated device management system, and then the management system would remotely send the scheduled updates to all subscribing devices. An OTA system can use multiple connectivity methods, such as Wi-Fi and any broadband technology.

Typical IoT systems can get two categories of updates:

  • Firmware over-the-air (FOTA) updates. These updates are permanent changes to the device firmware that typically persist even after a “hard” or factory reset. This makes it possible to improve system performance, fix bugs, or upgrade system software versions, without needing to intrude with a physical connection to a device.
  • Software over-the-air (SOTA) updates. This enables the transfer, download, and installation of files to connected or subscribing devices. These would typically be wiped by a “hard” or factory reset. This category can include security patches, new functionality, and software updates.

The OTA update process is typically secured using a rollback-recovery system. This mechanism ensures that the system can automatically restore to its previous state in case of a failure or interruption of the transfer.

Connected Vehicle Ecosystem

Connected cars need to support a particular suite of applications because of the wide variety of features that these complex machines have. As two examples, autonomous (or semi-autonomous) driving features and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) depend on software. Since these systems continuously evolve, they rely on regular SOTA upgrades for continued and improved functionality. 

Connected cars also have an absolutely massive need for regular data transfer. In-vehicle systems routinely generate the most data of all consumer IoT devices, including smartphones. Altogether, connected cars generate around 258TB daily. The bulk of this data consists of sensor data covering speed, travel routes, and wear and tear in in-vehicle components. There are also multiple recognition sensors like ultrasonics, radar, and cameras, which enable cars to communicate with each other, with pedestrians (or their technology), and with infrastructure like parking facilities and traffic lights.

Within the connected vehicles ecosystem, cars are continuously connected to remote systems, and they need to update their software to keep communications smooth regularly. These software updates also enable the rollout of new functionality, removal of security vulnerabilities, and compliance with new or updated regulatory standards. OTA solutions can also help clients manage and update vehicle software without needing to consult a mechanic or make a trip to a vehicle service center.

Benefits of OTA Updates

if you don’t have OTA functionality in a hardware-defined system, then you will find yourself having to make periodic visits to a mechanic, service center, or another provider for the updates you could have gotten over the air to improve in-car diagnostics, infotainment systems, or telematics. It’s easy to see that there are some real benefits to getting your connected vehicle updated and using an OTA system. Since the updates cover critical things like core function monitoring (powertrain and vehicle specifications) and security updates, it’s plain that you will likely want them. And since the updates vary in frequency, it’s clear that you don’t want to need a service appointment each time your car gets a system update. So, let’s examine the benefits of OTA updates for carmakers and car owners.

  1. Fixing bugs and security vulnerabilities

The wide and growing range of software solutions within a connected vehicle opens the door to data theft, malicious attacks, and a host of cybersecurity breaches. In a connected car, it is worth noting that even safety-critical systems like steering, braking, and acceleration may be fully software-dependent. That means that OTA updates are a fast and scalable way to fix newly-identified vulnerabilities immediately.

  1. Monitoring software performance and adding new features

The OTA system ensures that all cars have an identical standard and lets manufacturers continuously evolve and improve this. The car can be at the dealership or on the road, and the updates flow seamlessly from a single interface. This mechanism also offers a convenient way to update, upgrade, or expand systems that don’t need new hardware for their expanded functionality. Examples include new features and configurations for the components already present within the vehicle. BMW is one of the automotive manufacturers already offering map updates through an OTA system.

  1. Avoiding vehicle recalls

Between 2009 and 2019, the rate of software-focused vehicle recalls in the United States more than tripled. As one instructive example, the Porsche Cayenne had three different software recalls during its first year, which impacted more than 58,000 vehicles.

The OTA system promises to eliminate or dramatically reduce the number of software-focused recalls, and we already have some strong examples of how the future may look. In 2012, Tesla became the first car manufacturer to provide OTA updates for the Model S via Wi-Fi and 3G. Today, the practice is much more widespread, with OEMs such as Ford, Volvo, Volkswagen, and BMW seamlessly enhancing the functionality of on-road vehicles through OTA updates. 

  1. Reducing operating costs

By streamlining software updates and fixes, over-the-air technology can also slash operating costs. IHS Automotive, an auto industry data consulting company, has estimated that OEM savings from OTA updates will rise from $2.7 billion in 2015 to $35 billion in 2022. Looking back to the previous point, this figure’s primary savings come from reduced costs in vehicle recalls.

  1. Enabling expanded autonomous driving

OTA technology is critical to the incremental push toward autonomous driving. Even if we ignore the continuous development of core autonomous driving technology, updates for autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles offer road sign updates, terrain data, updated information on closed roads, and road repairs. So it is clear that cars with any level of autonomous features need regular updates to stay completely relevant.

It is also clear that OTA tech can add to the development of increasingly autonomous cars. In March 2021, Honda launched the first Level 3 autonomous car. The Legend luxury sedan can automatically brake, accelerate, steer, and read the environment with a range of external sensors and continuously-updated digital maps.

  1. Meeting new standards and certifications

Since all vehicles are getting more sophisticated, digital, and connected, the legal frameworks for driving and vehicle technology are evolving to accommodate advanced and autonomous driving technology. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which regulates brakes, tires, airbags, and seatbelts, can force a recall if it detects a vehicle defect that negatively affects safety. With an OTA update system in place, automakers can comply with these responsibilities quickly, and at a much lower cost than the historical recall system has provided.

Remember This

Over-the-air update technology for connected cars has two sides. On the negative side, OTA technology poses new risks and challenges in setting customer expectations, maintaining security, and delivering carefully-tested, secure updates. On the positive side, it offers a wide range of benefits and conveniences, with the promise of keeping your connected car or other IoT deployments safe and healthy. Continuous software updates help manufacturers upgrade, improve, or add new features without requiring a trip to your mechanic or service center. If you are considering an OTA update system for your own IoT deployment, schedule a consultation with Softeq today to help you evaluate the opportunities and implement an ideal solution.

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