Sunday, October 28, 2012

Recall? What recall?

Red Bend demonstrates firmware-over-the-air (FOTA) updates of QNX CAR 2 application platform at Telematics Munich

I think anyone with a passing knowledge of software development in automotive would agree that the infotainment systems currently under development are light years ahead of the systems that shipped only 5 years ago. The blurring of the automotive and the consumer experience is accelerating at an amazing pace. And the processing power being specified for next-gen infotainment aligns with what is expected in advanced smart phones.

It's no surprise, then, that the size of the code base and the complexity of the underlying software is growing at a similar pace. This complexity creates a maintenance challenge. On your phone, upgrades are pushed out regularly in a way that you barely notice: you get a notification of an update, push a couple buttons, and presto, you are up to date. In automotive, if we stick to the traditional methodology, this same type of upgrade would require a recall. You'd have to take your car to the dealership and they would reflash whatever needs to be updated. Expensive for the auto manufacturer and a big pain for the consumer.

Thankfully, people are thinking about this. Companies like Red Bend Software have cut their teeth in the mobile space, specializing in firmware-over-the-air updates, or FOTA for short. They can generate something called a delta file, which effectively encapsulates the difference (or delta) between what is currently on the end device and the new software build. In some cases, the file can be up to 50 times smaller than the new build. They also have the ability to track current load status of all the devices deployed.

So what does that get you? Using FOTA, OEMs will be able to minimize the network bandwidth required for upgrades and to manage the update process remotely, moving us all towards that Zen state of automagic. I don't know about you, but anything that saves me a trip to the dealer is a good thing.

Red Bend will demonstrate this capability by updating versions of the QNX CAR 2 application platform this week at Telematics Munich. So if you happen to be there, do stop to check it out.

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