1/26/2016 | 1 MINUTE READ

Competition Heats Up for Over-the-Air Software Updates

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The competition for so-called over-the-air (OTA) software updates is increasing among carmakers, suppliers and technologies almost as fast as such updates can be made.

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The competition for so-called over-the-air (OTA) software updates is increasing among carmakers, suppliers and technologies almost as fast as such updates can be made.

Most carmakers plan to introduce OTA capabilities, which allow owners to have the latest software upgrades remotely uploaded into their vehicles. The technology also can reduce warranty costs by sending software fixes directly to vehicle owners without making them go to a dealership. This is expected to save carmakers a combined $35 billion worldwide per year by 2022, according to a recent forecast by IHS Automotive.

But Automotive News notes there currently are no standards for OTA technology (the Genivi Alliance consortium is working on an open-source system) which has led to a number of different approaches and a host of competitors.

Most OTA updates to date have been done over existing cellular networks to tweak telematics features, such as those offered through General Motors' OnStar service. Ford's new Sync 3 infotainment system uses BlackBerry's QNX operating system to handle updates over a wi-fi connection.

Tesla Motors also uses a built-in wi-fi system to modify various vehicle systems, including those that control braking, steering and suspension functions. The carmaker used the technology, which is supplied by Harman International's Redbend unit, last October to download new automated driving functions into its Model S electric car.

The Redbend system allows carmakers to identify and change specific lines of code instead of having to replace an entire file. This helps reduce the time and cost of the process, according to the supplier.

Another potential option is to transmit updates to a driver's smartphone, then upload it to the car via Bluetooth. This will allow older vehicles without a cellular connection or wi-fi to be included in wireless updates, according to AN. It says Plymouth, Mich.-based Movimento is developing such a system to allow carmakers to send updates including cybersecurity fixes directly to consumers.

The lack of standards also has caused unnecessary redundancy when it comes to development efforts, Matt Jones, head of future infotainment at Jaguar Land Rover, tells AN. He points out that there were at least 42 exhibitors promoting similar OTA systems at this year's CES electronics show in Las Vegas.