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Over-the-air software finds its way into cars

20 Dec 2013  | Yoram Berholtz

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Vehicle manufacturers that want to provide a better user experience for drivers increasingly rely on over-the-air software. By using this solution to update the technology in autos, these manufacturers are able to improve functionality and fix software defects. Both GM (OnStar) and Daimler (MBRACE 2) have embraced over-the-air software as a key tool in improving its infotainment systems, which is exemplified through GM's recent update of its Bluetooth technology.

The ability to update the infotainment system—even manually—is an improvement over requiring car owners to visit the dealership every time new software is available. As an example, Ford recently launched a program for consumers to update their own MyFord Touch system by mailing owners a USB drive loaded with the appropriate software updates. However, many consumers view manual updates as bothersome and complicated, which means some systems simply don't get updated. Instead, today's car owners expect the same user experience they have with mobile devices to be available for their infotainment systems, and that's performing software updates over-the-air (OTA).

According to ABI Research, there will be 210 million connected cars by 2016, and together with the ability to tether the smartphone to the infotainment system, the main enabler for doing over-the-air update is there: connectivity.

The updating solution must have scope and scale. Scope is the ability and the flexibility to update all of the memory including the user and system space with full or discrete components. As well, the solution must scale to manage millions of updates without any failure and with the highest security possible. This, for example, will enable QNX CAR 2 users to update not only the QNX CAR 2 software but also individual applications such as Pandora or the Weather Channel.

In the mobile industry, where over-the-air software updating is a well-established practice, manufacturers and service providers realise many benefits.

Cost Reduction: OTA software updates have reduced warranty costs

Update success rate: OTA software updates deliver the highest success rate

Faster Updates: Sending only the code that is different between the original software and the update (often called the delta) is faster and uses less bandwidth

Customer Satisfaction: A fast and automatic over-the-air process eliminates the need for the consumer to go to the dealer

The mobile industry has enjoyed these benefits for some time. The automotive industry needs over-the-air updating even more so because the infotainment system includes millions of lines of code and updating this software requires a holistic solution that can manage the whole software life-cycle.

Red Bend Software has integrated its vRapid Mobile update technology, which currently exists in more than 1.6 billion devices, into QNX CAR 2. This gives car manufacturers and Tier 1 providers the flexibility to create an OTA update strategy that is optimised for infotainment systems and other embedded systems in the car. Today, infotainment systems are central in the car cockpit experience. These systems contain not only the QNX CAR 2 platform but also a variety of applications. Applications for the auto industry are not like applications for mobile devices – they have been modified to suit the car environment, and rely more on voice activation and larger soft-buttons so driver distraction is minimised.

Car manufacturers are looking at their infotainment system as a differentiator when selling the car and a valuable asset to generate revenue after the sale. The automobile industry doesn't want Over-the-Top (OTT) companies controlling the delivery channel to the infotainment system and weakening the automotive brand, similar to what happened in the mobile industry. With a holistic FOTA (Firmware OTA) solution, car manufacturers can guarantee ownership of the infotainment firmware and applications, increasing perceived value through stronger branding.

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