Wednesday, June 19, 2013

OTA software: not just building castles in the air

Tina Jeffrey
After attending Telematics Detroit earlier this month, I realized more than ever that M2M will become the key competitive differentiator for automakers. With M2M, automakers can stay connected with their vehicles and perhaps more importantly, vehicle owners, long after the cars have been driven off dealer lots. Over-the-air (OTA) technology provides true connectivity between automakers and their vehicles, making it possible to upgrade multiple systems, including electronic control unit (ECU) software, infotainment systems that provide navigation and smartphone connectivity, and an ever-increasing number of apps and services.

Taken together, the various systems in a vehicle contain up to 100 million lines of code — which makes the 6.5 million lines of code in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner seem like a drop in the proverbial bucket. Software in cars will only continue to grow in both amount and complexity, and the model automakers currently use to maintain and upgrade vehicle software isn’t scalable.

Vehicle owners want to keep current with apps, services, and vehicle system upgrades, without always having to visit the dealer. Already, vehicle owners update many infotainment applications by accepting software pushed over the air, just like they update applications on their smartphones. But this isn’t currently the case for ECUs, which require either a complete module replacement or module re-flashing at a dealership.

Pushing for updates
Automakers know that updates must be delivered to vehicle owners in a secure, seamless, and transparent fashion, similar to how OTA updates are delivered to mobile phones. Vehicle software updates must be even more reliable given they are much more critical.

BlackBerry’s OTA solution: Software Update Management for Automotive service

With OTA technology, automakers will use wireless networks to push software updates to vehicles automatically. The OTA service will need to notify end-users of updates as they become available and allow the users to schedule the upgrade process at a convenient time. Large software updates that may take a while to download and install could be scheduled to run overnight while the car is parked in the garage, making use of the home Wi-Fi connection. Smaller size updates could be delivered over a cellular connection through a tethered smartphone, while on a road trip. In this latter scenario, an update could be interrupted, for instance, if the car travels into a tunnel or beyond the network area.

A win-win-win
Deployment of OTA software updates is a winning proposition for automakers, dealers, and vehicle owners. Automakers could manage the OTA software updates themselves, or extend the capability to their dealer networks. Either way, drivers will benefit from the convenience of up-to-date software loads, content, and apps with less frequent trips to the dealer. Dealership appointments would be limited to mechanical work, and could be scheduled automatically according to the vehicle’s diagnostic state, which could be transmitted over the air, routinely, to the dealer. With this sharing of diagnostic data, vehicle owners would better know how much they need to shell out for repairs in advance of the appointment, with less chance of a shocking repair-cost phone call.

OTA technology also provides vehicle owners and automakers with the ability to personalize the vehicle. Automaker-pushed content can be carefully controlled to target the driver’s needs, reflect the automaker's brand, and avoid distraction — rather than the unrestricted open content found on the internet, which could be unsafe for consumption while driving. Overall, OTA software updates will help automakers maintain the customers they care about, engender brand loyalty, and provide the best possible customer experience.

Poised to lead
Thinking back to Telematics Detroit, if the number of demos my BlackBerry colleagues gave of their Software Update Management for Automotive service is any indication, OTA will transform the auto industry. According to a study from Gartner ( “U.S. Consumer Vehicle ICT Study: Web-Based Features Continue to Rise” by Thilo Koslowski), 40 percent of all U.S. vehicle owners either “definitely want to get” or at least are “likely to get” the ability for wireless software updates in their next new vehicle — making it the third most demanded automotive-centric Web application and function.

BlackBerry is poised to lead in this space, given their expertise in infrastructure, security, software management, and close ties to automotive. They were leaders in building an OTA solution for the smartphone market, and now again are among the first entrants in enabling a solution that is network, hardware, firmware, OS, software, and application agnostic.

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