By Richard Kinder, vice president of Technology and New Business, and Yoram Berholtz, director of Market Adoption, Red Bend Software
At the last Geneva show, the concept of vehicles becoming four-wheeled computers was finally made a reality. Vehicles are increasingly becoming connected to the network via embedded cellular modules and other networked devices, with drivers, passengers and third parties all taking advantage of the newly ‘connected car.’
Making full use of the possibilities offered by the ‘connected car’ is allowing manufacturers to differentiate their vehicles from the competition’s offerings and to provide fleets with more cost effective and productive solutions. One such solution is updating automotive firmware over the air (FOTA).
With the increasing amount and complexity of software in connected cars, vehicle manufacturers are adopting FOTA in order to keep fleets on the road with the latest features and performance improvements, without the need to take the vehicle to the garage to perform the update.
New possibilities for the ‘connected car’
With the advent of the ‘connected car,’ vehicle manufacturers are moving to a new architecture where dedicated electronic control units (ECUs) are being replaced by more powerful, general purpose embedded computing devices.
These devices enable more sophisticated in-vehicle services and applications that turn the vehicle into a powerful computing and communications hub. These embedded systems allow vehicle manufacturers to fulfil the need for communication and information access on the road, integrating vehicles into the rest of the drivers’ connected lives.
For drivers using company vehicles, in-vehicle apps enable drivers to further integrate their work into the driving experience.
For example, a delivery company can now integrate applications that can save time and fuel such as Waze, a community-based GPS traffic and navigation application that can guide the driver into the less-jammed roads and also provide updates on any events that happen on the planned route such as accidents.
Another example is iOnRoad which improves driving in real time. As the car approaches a collision or runs off the road, an audio-visual warning alerts the driver to take action in time and potentially save a life.
Many fleet operators will be familiar with in-vehicle telematics boxes that track and transmit data related to vehicle performance. These boxes track everything from vehicle location, engine efficiency, locking mechanisms, driver behaviour and fuel consumption through the integrated control unit.
The analysis of information transmitted by these boxes is crucial for fleet operators to measure performance. Using this analysis, operators can make improvements to driver behaviour as well as reduce fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and vehicle wear and tear.
Staying Up to Date
As fleet vehicles become increasingly reliant on advanced systems and features, the ability to maintain and update the software efficiently is critical. Updates provide new features and allow applications to adapt in line with legislation and evolving needs. They reduce recall rates and warranty costs, and ensure systems stay connected and fully functioning.
But conventional systems still require drivers to bring their cars and trucks to a technician to upgrade the software or add new features. This is expensive and time-consuming for fleet operators and very inconvenient for drivers. This is why fleet managers are showing so much interest in the latest systems that have Firmware Over-the-Air (FOTA) updating capability.
Bandwidth Savings for Optimal Cost-Efficiency
For large fleets, performing FOTA updates can have cost implications if not managed properly. Depending on the type of system deployed, the cost of transmitting data to keep a large fleet up to date, especially if roaming, can add up to several million pounds per year.
The amount of data that needs to be sent periodically to each vehicle can result in high bandwidth usage. Software management companies such as Red Bend Software are currently working to enable the fastest, safest and most cost-effective delivery possible of these updates, using the smallest amount of data.
Through a unique algorithm, Red Bend has been able to reduce the software update package size by 95%, so that an update that would typically be 10MB can be reduced to around 500K.
Seamless Upgrades on the Move
When implemented correctly, over-the-air software updating can be performed without needing additional hardware investment such as more memory. FOTA solutions such as Red Bend’s are designed to work within the constrained environments found inside vehicle systems while meeting safety and performance requirements, ensuring that even if there is a power disruption or network outage mid transfer, the updates always complete successfully as soon as connection is restored.
To effectively manage FOTA updates, back-end software management systems, based in the cloud or installed locally, enable fleet operators to deploy, update and analyse on-board software systems. Many fleets will have vehicles of different ages and specifications that have different software versions.
In such cases, tailored update packages are deployed according to the software needs of each individual vehicle. The management system can also analyse and alert fleet managers to any software issues on individual vehicles, and enable operators to fix potential problems proactively and remotely in order to keep vehicles on the road and productive.
We expect the automotive industry to follow the mobile phone industry in that, once connected, vehicles – just like smartphones – will become a platform for new content and services.
With many vehicles now having such advanced computing capabilities, vehicle manufacturers are increasingly integrating systems that can manage and update vehicle software over the air.
Manufacturers are embracing the connected car by equipping vehicles with software updating systems that can routinely deliver new features and performance improvements wirelessly to drivers, with no disruption to their journey.
FOTA updating has substantial benefits for fleet operators in terms of savings and efficiencies. Being able to update software on the move is clearly cheaper, more efficient and more practical than having to take a vehicle to a service technician.
As more fleet operators realise the benefits of FOTA, it is likely that this capability will become standard on all vehicles.