Importance of FOTA in automotive manufacturing

There is no standardized solution today that aims to help keep vehicles up-to-date with modern technology trends that we are accustomed to in 2015. The consumer device life-cycle is becoming increasingly smaller, technological updtates more frequent, and the momentum is increasing. Yet likely the most expensive personal device we own is stuck in time dating back to the date of manufacturing, or worse -the “date of manufacturing” may be up to 4 years prior to the date stamp on the vehicle.

The explanation

Vehicle production takes time. Assembly line moves quickly, but the design process could take years. My best guess based on some unofficial numbers is that it take 18 months to 4 years to produce a vehicle from a napkin sketch to a prototype, to a production car. There is good chance that the software and technology in a 2016 line of vehicles has actually been designed in 2012. Come 2016 you will admire the technology that is past its prime use, but your only reference point is the technology of 2010 you have in your 2014 make year car today…

As reference;
Carplay and Android Auto is a product of 2013.
Car manufactures are advertising it as ‘the second coming’ in their 2015/16 make year vehicles…

My $55,000 2014 make year car has the technology introduced in 2009 line. My only comfort is that the $80,000 – $120.000 version of the  vehicle has the same poor experience.
There have been updates…
I can go to the dealership, buy the installation DVD for $125 and upgrade to enjoy a few additional features the aging hardware in the car can support, because in a 50k car, the HMI is less capable than my wrist watch. Yet the car is still less than a year old.

Without poking to far into the logic of OEM’s HMI design and why it is always 5 year past its prime, there may be still a way to resolve some of the immediate issues, that is – outdated software in the existing year model. I’m not saying the OEM should support the vehicle HMI with 3-5 versions of software upgrades, but at least offer the updates or parameter and configuration changes for when new protocols come out as in the case of bluetooth, changes in navigation software, places of interest, maps… and voice commands!

After all, upgrade to the fancy “technology package” at the time of purchase of the vehicle is in most cases more than the price of the fanciest PC (laptop). TV, Smartphone (essentially any other big item) of the day. One that will last you for years. Not offering essential updates to Vehicle HMI is shameful and with the generation of new buyers who admittedly would wait for the new technology to become available before making the purchase (See my earlier talks) Page 2; the inability to “move with time” should be a major concern to automotive OEMs.

Over The Air (OTA) Programming

For years now smart connectivity service or software providers have been offering Over The Air Programming, or the device firmware or software updating without the need to visit a technician, tether to a PC or worse; visit a store where the item was purchased. In the industrial setting or remote locations dragging the equipment to a service location is just not feasible and the traditional way of having a service technician visit the site gets costly -inefficient at best.

With a GSM carrier, automotive OEMs could deliver Firmware and Software over the air globally.

With a GSM carrier, automotive OEMs could deliver Firmware and Software over the air globally.

Today, for automotive manufacturers upgrading settings or parameters requires the vehicle to be brought in for service. Another aspect where FOTA can help is during recalls, of which 60% are software related. Imagine the negative CSAT scores when an OEM must publicly admit the negligence and ask the owners to calmly bring the vehicle in for service so that (maybe harmful) errors can be corrected. OEMs may chose to abate the risk or rollover and play dead when issues get eventually uncovered.

Firmware Over The Air (FOTA), Software Over The Air (SOTA), Service Provisioning(OTASP) and Parameter Administration (OTAPA) are just some of the ways to alleviate the problem and had been in existence for over a decade. You are a witness of FOTA at work every time you are prompted to update your smartphone OS.

Here is a tiny example of FOTA (OTAPA).When new bands are available, spectrum changes, or if you change the mobile network operator – carrier settings can be updated via FOTA.

Here is a tiny example of FOTA (OTAPA).When new bands are available, spectrum changes, or if you change the mobile network operator – carrier settings can be updated via FOTA.

The OTA mechanism requires the existing software and hardware of the target device to support the feature, namely the receipt and installation of new software received via the wireless network from the provider. New software is transferred to the target device, installed, and put into use.

Various standardization bodies were established to help develop, oversee, and manage OTA. One of them is the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA).

More recently, with the new concepts of Wireless Sensor Networks and the Internet of Things, where the networks consist of hundreds or thousands of nodes, OTA is taken to a new direction: for the first time OTA is applied using unlicensed frequency bands (2.4 GHz, 868 MHz, 900 MHz) and with low consumption and low data rate transmission using protocols such as 802.15.4

OMA specifications are meant to work with any cellular network technologies being used to provide networking and data transport. These networking technology are specified by outside parties. In particular, OMA specifications for a given function are the same with either GSM, UMTS or CDMA2000 networks.


White Paper: Extend the Value of M2M Modules with Firmware Over-the-Air (FOTA) Updating