Challenges to "Over to Air (OTA)" updates for automotive vehicle


1 - The advantages and disadvantages of using OTA and why they adopted this function.

OTA started with the first personal computers in late 90's with windows / macos , then moved to smartphones and then to the automotive world where Tesla was the first company followed by Mack trucks , GM , BMW etc. Now more and more companies are working on it and in future more devices will follow OTA updates. Regarding the automotive world, OTA brings the following advantages and disadvantages.

Advantage :

A : Efficiency - OTA updates are  more efficient way to fix bugs and update software than to manually update each individual device. OEM can seamlessly update the firmware to the whole fleet without physically checking. OTA updates also enable OEMs to more easily update software on devices that are difficult to access, such as ECU or dashboards or infotainment systems etc.

B : Development timing reduction - OTA updates can catch issues before devices launch, which can save OEMs time and money, as well as reduce the software development and quality process.

C : Saving Manpower and Money - The costs significantly decrease over the entire lifecycle of a car. Physical manpower is not required each vehicle by vehicle. An OTA update is also convenient for end users because it prevents them from having to go to a physical store or connect to a PC to update their devices. 

D : Prevent Recalls - OEMs can patch the known vulnerabilities, e.g. defective adapter plugs, or radars visibility , autonomous driving or electric brakes etc instead of recalling the vehicles. OEM  can respond to the legal and regulatory responsibilities faster and more cost-effectively.

E : Adware or spyware - Can prevent rogue engineers or technicians to manually alter vehicles. Any unauthorized software change can be known by the OEM and prevent damages to the vehicle. 

F : Low maintenance and continuous improvement - Bugs can be fixed and product behavior can be enhanced after the device lands in the hands of consumers. This can potentially eliminate costly recalls and in-person maintenance.

G : Data sharing - OTA data exchanges can happen both ways. By collecting data on the vehicle usage or performance and deploying analytics tools, OEMs can promote better customer experience and show customers that they care about them by issuing regular system updates. OEM can gather intel for R&D and ensure preventive maintenance. 

G1 : Monetize - Cars are gradually rising to the status of a “moving smartphones” as drivers want to get more things done on the go. In the future, instead of touch screens the drivers could rely on voice to activate the business features and manage their chores on the go. 

Customers can customize or personalize these software / infotmenets systems / cockpit displays which could be ordered or updated using OTA and can be monetized by OEM.

G2 : Car shopping - As more and more people are moving to online , shopping will be another integral part. Updates in application would be easy using OTA just like current smartphones are updated via OTA.

H : Emergency Situation - In emergency situations with vehicles or consumers , software updates or certain functions can be locked or unlocked via OTA update or remote control. In case of theft or unauthorized access of a vehicle , OTA update or remote access can be used to control the situation by OEM.

Disadvantages / Risks :

There are not disadvantages but risks using OTA. These risks are mainly regarding security.

A : Hacking Risk -  As more and more equipment are connected to online , higher the risk of being hacked if there are even minor vulnerabilities in the code which could be exploited to create havoc to the vehicle itself or to the consumer. Adware or spyware could be added during hack or unauthorized or unsecured networks. But instead of these , there are remedies just like via high encryption / secured system design.

Conclusion : Now after looking at both advantages and disadvantages , the big question is why they have adopted. Looking above details , there are more advantages than disadvantages. Future is moving towards automobiles with more electronics , electrical parts. In current vehicles  80% is hardware with 5% software , the future will be with 40% software to 30% of hardware. 

Infotements , shopping , autonomous driving , battery management , digital dashboards , brakes , lights , navigation, parking , seating etc all are controlled via software and they would need to update time to time and real time data sharing with OEM to give the best possible solution to the customer.

As we are already in the age of level 3 (Conditional automation) , next levels will be moved as early in next 5-10 years [ level 4 ( high automation) , level 5 ( fully autonomous ) ] like the automobiles we have seen in sci-fi movies like I-robot , Total Recall , Minority Report. Physical software update would be infeasible due to customer demand for hassle free experience. 

2 - Challenges to automotive OEM that has not implemented OTA overcome when implementing OTA.

Challenges faced by OEM who want to move to OTA software updates from manual ones :

A : Scope Definition - Scope needs to be defined , which would include timing , product development process , research & development team ,cyber security, budget , production process , supplier selections , test matrix , quality control process , sales & marketing strategy , after support team and system build.

● Increase product roll-out timing - Most of the scope definition would be defined first time , it could take time or would need external help from automotive companies , suppliers or look into other products. This could increase product roll-out timing.

Solution to Overcome : 

1 : Get external help like automotive suppliers or consultants who already have experience in handling.

B : Research and Development : Every system inside an automobile needs to be connected with ECU and ECU needs to be connected to OEM servers / cloud. Development of ECU+Code either needs to be developed inhouse which could take years , or ECU+code bought from suppliers with all source code or develop ECU+Code with suppliers in partnership with them.

ECU needs to be connected with 4G/5G , connectivity with wifi-fi , bluetooth etc. Current auto already has bluetooth , only missing is wifi-fi or 5G connectivity. As this technology is already available , need to find a way to connect this with ECU and build a code so that OTA can be updated. Important tasks during R&D : ECU hardware development , ECU software development for OTA , all peripheral devices connected with ECU and able to implement OTA , cyber security. 

● Connecting the whole vehicle environment into one : This could be a challenge as most of the parts are built with the help of suppliers , sharing code into one would be difficult due to the different coding environment.

Solution to Overcome :


1 : OEMs need to be the sole owner of all the software in the vehicle to get efficient OTA updates. Hardware can be built by suppliers , even software code can be outsourced to reduce development timing.

2 : Include suppliers from the R&D cycle to prevent any surprises during production or roll out of the vehicle.

B : Procurement : Once system architect is finalized , supplier selection will be needed to build hardware and software. Either internal OEM team or external supplier help would be required for product  development and also for after sales support during automobile lifetime.

During supplier selection procurements tend to be quick-notice, making bids difficult to resource and team.

● Black box - When working with suppliers another challenge would be with “black box”.

● Supplier selection timing -  Usually this process is slow and would need to expedite or suppliers need to be selected who are working from the R & D phase despite high costs.

● Difficulty in finding cyber security suppliers -  Cyber security suppliers in the automotive industry are pretty new and defined. This could lead to high cost and protocolos need to be predefined during the R & D phase with them.

Solution to Overcome : 

1 : Work with suppliers who don't have black box clause , identify them during scope definition.

2 : Build whole software inhouse , only rely on hardware from suppliers.

3 : Reduce supplier selection timing by having dedicated and detailed RFQ technical documents.

4 : Collaborate or acquire key components suppliers in the space of cyber security , high speed data transfer , ECU developers. 

C : Production : Supplier will build the hardware or software to prepare for prototype to production to match the vehicle SOP timing.

● Flexibility - Flexibility in software changes would be needed during the production cycle as lots of bugs could be found during initial release.

● Hardware alteration - Hardware alteration during software testing could derail the production timing due to mismatch or compatibility issues which could arise due to new test load cases.

Solution to Overcome : 

1 : In-house software ownership will reduce cost , timing and detailed changes.

2 : Define hardware with over the limit capabilities , instead of on the limit to reduce further changes during production like memory sizes , data processing speed , data transfer speed and modular.

3 : Module kits could be one of the solutions which can be changed / updated easily.

D : Testing : Extensive testing will be required for OTA implementation in every environment. Test matrix , load cases need to be defined in any situation or environment.

● Out of the box test cases needed - New test cases need to be thought and defined and they need to be altered as soon as possible when a defect or bug is found in the system.

● Real timing testing - Tests not all need to be conducted inside or predefined matrix during development cycle but also after the product is sold to the customer , all the system needs to be monitored.

Solution to Overcome : 

1 : Expert advice from consultants to define load cases from auto industry or industry from other than auto specially from mobile / telecom industry.

2 : Build infrastructure to receive and transfer data from vehicles to backend servers , cloud computing.

3 : Announce bounty to ethical computer hackers to find vulnerabilities in the system. 

E : Marketing & Sales : This important aspect to sell the final product to the customers. 

● Differentiate Product - How to Differentiate OEMs' products differently from others in the market already and how they are better.

● Safety and security - How OEMs product is more secure for the customer through hacking or other vulnerabilities.

● Data sharing and privacy concerns - To deal with privacy concerns need to be addressed as it could be tough as many tech companies are facing the same problem.

Solution to Overcome : 

1: Use industries best protocols for cyber security including military grade to prevent any direct hacks or indirect hacks.

2 : Learn and watch the competitors move , jump into uncharted territories to have a jump start compared to competitors.

3 :  Give early access to media , youtubers etc, process both positive and negative feedback for improvements.

4 : Learn , listen from other tech companies and the public regarding privacy concerns.

5 : Provide incentives or perks to customers to approve data sharing and help them to build the user friendly vehicle environment.

F : After support : After support for not only hardware changes but software changes would be challenged as currently hardware content is more than software but in future software will contribute more than hardware.

● Real timing monitoring : Vast networks with high speed communication would be needed to monitor the vehicles and analyze the bugs , close the vulnerabilities and update them via OTA.

● 24/7 Support globally : Dedicated team would be required globally to support customers.

● Security : Secure servers with global network connection with dedicated cyber security systems would be needed.

Solution to Overcome : 

1: Investment would be needed in cloud storage , computing instead of having dedicated servers to reduce capex.

2 : Manpower or auto bots would be needed to support customers 24/7 globally. This can be done by outsourcing.

3 : Dedicated software team , cyber security team , super computers or cloud computing would be needed to process all the vehicle data , find bugs , vulnerabilities , hacks. 


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