Updating Car ECUs Over-The-Air (FOTA)

September 16, 2013 // By Rudolf von Stokar, Red Bend Software
Getting the growing amount of software in vehicles under control, reducing the costs and raise customer satisfaction at the same time? Is that even possible? This article shows how.

As the amount of software in automobiles grows, so too does the need to effectively manage that software asset. The telecom industry has a proven solution for remotely updating software on mobile devices. The technology is called Firmware Over-the-Air (FOTA) updating. All major mobile phone manufacturers and tier one operators have adopted FOTA successfully, performing more than 100 million updates per year with the benefit of providing new features and performance improvements, reducing customer care costs, avoiding product recalls, and increasing consumer satisfaction.

Today's automobile contains many complex electronic systems; each may incorporate a large number of Electronic Control Units (ECUs) performing a single function and communicating via a common bus/network. In 2009, Prof. Manfred Broy of the Munich Technical University stated that in a premium class automobile there are close to 100 million lines of software code, compared to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with 5.7 million lines or with the Boeing 787 with about 6.5 million lines. In addition, Prof. Broy states that “the cost of software and electronics can reach 35 to 40 percent of the cost of a car.” Present day automobiles typically contain more than 60 ECUs such as the audio system, brake system, doors, lighting, engine, transmission, batteries, and more. The embedded software package size now amounts to tens of megabytes for engine and transmission controllers, while audio/infotainment systems are usually the largest and most complex software units, often exceeding 100MB.

Slow, Expensive, Complicated: How Updates in Vehicles are Performed Today

There are many control modules in a vehicle, most of which are interconnected over some form of vehicle network interface (CAN, MOST, LIN, FlexRay). However, only a select few will have access to external cellular or Wi-Fi networks, typically the infotainment head unit or Telematics module. It is possible to use an externally connected module as a gateway for updates, where firmware updates for other modules are received by this gateway module and

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