Opportunities and challenges of over-the-air software updates in automotive

March 25, 2016 // By Stephane Strahm
The Internet of Things (IoT) and the increasing value and capabilities of software deployed within and outside the car are changing the automotive industry.

A major enabler for this new software-powered paradigm will be the ability to update software ‘over-the-air’. Stéphane Strahm, Director Automotive Products Engineering, Wind River, looks at the opportunities and the challenges for carmakers.

The growth of software in cars for both in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) and under-the-hood applications, such as ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) and autonomous driving, is posing challenges for the automotive industry. For example, how best to deliver new applications and new software releases to vehicles that are already on the road?

The value proposition in automotive has changed significantly compared to some four decades ago, where approximately 90% of a vehicle’s value was tied to solid and tangible aspects of the Bill-of-Material. In the coming decade, that value is expected to be drastically reduced with 50% or more of the vehicle’s value being defined by software and a better user experience, where new applications can create value many times greater than that of the actual assets – see figure 1.

Figure 1 – The changing value of automotive from hardware to software and new applications

Another key trend that is driving the development of the next generation of vehicles is the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT). Through the use of software, automotive systems are becoming more connected within the car but also with the outside world. Software is helping to create differentiated driving experiences. The growing role of software in the car and the increasingly interconnectivity of its systems brings a number of challenges, which means that car OEMs will need to have a strong grasp of the holistic software environment to orchestrate a successful vision of the connected car.


Development and deployment lifecycle

The updating of software/firmware over-the-air (SOTA/FOTA) is being seen as a critical methodology to manage software updates with the latest revisions for the entire lifecycle of a system – from the initial architecture design of the hardware and software to the life of the car on the road which could be 10 years or more. It is still very early days for OTA and actual deployment is still in the nascent phase. However, the potential benefits are many, both before and after a car rolls off the production line.