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Advantages of over-the-air updates for automotives

Posted: 11 Jan 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Internet of Things  IoT  over-the-air  OTA  software updates 

Automakers are now looking into Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to enable service delivery, enhance the customer experience, and conform to new regulatory requirements for emergency call services, such as eCall in Europe, Simrav in Brazil, and ERA-GLONASS in Russia.

In particular, they see over-the-air (OTA) updates as key to managing the tens of millions of lines of software code now running in every vehicle.

With OTA updates, automakers can dramatically reduce the cost of updating vehicle software, whether to improve functionality or to fix issues. Moreover, they can better address consumer demands for the latest cloud-based services, including maps, navigation, and voice recognition.

Traditionally, vehicle software is updated through a service appointment or as part of routine maintenance. This approach is inconvenient for consumers and costly for automakers.

The vehicle owner must typically spend personal time arranging a service visit and, depending on the issue, manage without their vehicle temporarily. As with product recalls, this aggravation can lower customer confidence and perceptions of quality. Also, it isn't unusual for multiple vehicle lines to share software platforms, so a single defect or vulnerability can impact thousands or even millions of vehicles—and all of the people who own them.

An OTA update solution can tackle these problems by using a centralized cloud service to remotely update software components and to tailor software delivery according to variables such as hardware versions, locale, or customer subscriptions. As a result, car maintenance becomes proactive rather than reactive, delivering updates with virtually no disruption to the customer.

Moreover, OTA updates can boost the automaker's bottom line. The cost of fixing software defects rises rapidly once cars have been deployed, with software warranty costs typically ranging from $250 to $350 per vehicle.

Over 30% of these costs are directly attributable to labour. OTA updates can help eliminate these costs, saving the automotive industry an estimated $2.7 billion in 2015 and over $35 billion in 2022, according to IHS Automotive.

Scalable, efficient, secure
Given the complexity of vehicle software, updating software over the air is no simple task.

OTA solutions need the scalability to push out updates to millions of vehicles on a global basis. Globally distributed data centres must handle trillions of transactions per day and tens of petabytes of traffic per month. Hosting networks must have redundancy and automatic recovery to ensure ultra-dependable performance. Ideally, the OTA solution should scale by connecting to other networks or systems through proxies.

OTA updates also require efficiency.

For example, an OTA solution must be able to stagger updates to avoid overloading cellular networks, especially since vehicles are often clustered together in urban centres. The solution must also apply updates in a timely manner. To make deployment fast and simple, the solution should provide an intuitive interface that allows automakers or service centres to define update criteria and administer all updates from a single console.

Security is top of mind for automakers.

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