By around 2020, most cars in Europe and the US will be connected. Until then, car buyers will continue to ask why the digital lifestyle they enjoy today is not available in their car.
Yoram Berholtz, Director, Business Line Manager, Automotive at Redbend Software, believes it’s no longer a question of ‘why a connected car?’ but ‘how do we deliver one?’ Berholtz spoke to Megatrends about how the industry can tackle ongoing connectivity challenges.
Connected cars present an interesting challenge to OEMs – not only must they deliver a service that consumers expect, but they must keep their cars up-to-date, delivering the same user experience that people are used to with their mobile devices.
“In the future, drivers will not be happy to return to a dealer for a software update. Instead, like in a mobile device, they will expect the ability to update it over-the-air (OTA). This is where Redbend comes in,” Berholtz explained.
The car is fast becoming the largest consumer electronic device, thanks to smartphone-like software management technology and OTA software and firmware upgrades. Redbend’s technology is already available in more than a million cars, trucks, and heavy machinery, enabling effortless wireless software updates. And in January 2015, Redbend was acquired by Harman in a move which will position the company even more aggressively into OTA service delivery, making it clear that OTA updates are here to stay.
The circle of life
A key challenge faced by OEMs is delivering a new car with the most up-to-date software, both during production and during the finished vehicle shipment, explained Berholtz. “When the car is in production, there is some delay while installing the subcomponent into the car on the production line. During this time, there may be software updates that need to be incorporated into the ECU,” he explained.
Software updates carried out OTA can also aid the industry in the shipping of new cars; an ocean-bound car carrier can be at sea for weeks before it reaches port, with a further delay between the port and the dealer. “During this time, there could be new software updates, just as there could when the car reaches the dealer, as well as once it is in the hands of the consumer.”
Fast-track to improved connectivity
The OTA update capabilities offered by Redbend mean that the system will only update what Berholtz describes as “the delta,” meaning that only the changes between the current version and the new version are updated. “We enable this as it shortens the update period by more than 70%, a very important aspect for an OEM to maintain customer satisfaction.” Satisfaction can also be maintained via bug fixes and software upgrades at a time suitable to the customer; and of course, avoiding any need for the consumer to go out of their way to visit the dealer can be considered a source of high customer satisfaction.
As the car’s ability to connect to the outside world grows, so too does the amount of data it needs to store and handle, providing another use case for OTA updates. “A software update is a necessity when there is a lot of code. If you think of an old Nokia phone, the number of software updates was minimal. But now on an iPhone or an Android, software update occurs every three or four weeks, because the number of lines of code has since increased tenfold.” This now also applies to a car, explained Berholtz. “The fact that there is an increased amount of code inside the car means it is vital to have the ability to update the software and data and make it fresh.”
Shut that door
The increasingly connected car also opens the door to malware and viruses. While Redbend is not a security expert, the company is working in partnership with industry experts such as Cisco to build systems that will close the door to those ‘unwanted guests’ with the ability to digitally sign each of the packages that are going to the car, and to detect if this signature is correct. “If the signature is not correct, then the system will not perform the update,” says Berholtz. “If the client detects that this signature is correct, then we will continue with our update process, so it reduces the risk of a bug or malware getting into the car via the update process.”
From fuel efficiency to electric vehicle (EV) charging, standards in the automotive industry are being demanded by multiple parties to enable easier and quicker product development. In the case of connectivity, speeding up and enhancing the ability to keep cars up-to-date will be vital in the coming years. For this reason, said Berholtz, Redbend is a member of the GENIVI Alliance, which promotes the adoption of an In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) open-source development platform. This membership allows the company to collaborate with the automotive industry in developing standards that will assist OEMs to reliably and efficiently manage and maintain the growing levels of software in cars.
“The goal is to come up with a type of middleware that will help the OEM and the Tier 1 to reduce time to market. This is possible due to standards which could provide say 80% of development readiness, leaving 20% for the OEM to adapt in order to differentiate itself from the competition,” said Berholtz. “Our work with GENIVI will create a package that will help OEMs to reduce their development cycles and focus on security. We think our solution is something that can be aligned with GENIVI to manage and improve in-car software updates.”
Looking to the next ten years and beyond, Berholtz explained that OTA updates will play a big part in the advancement of the connected car. “OTA updates will be used for bug fixes as well as to avoid big recalls.”
Big Data will also play an important role over the next decade. “It’s not only for understanding the habits of the driver, but to help car manufacturers better understand what is happening inside the car and which parts are not working correctly, as well as taking this analytic information from the car to serve the needs of the customer. Beyond that, another area is data analytics, where we take the information from the infotainment applications and hardware, and deliver it to the OEMs’ Big Data servers. Redbend will play a role in the future of all of these key areas.”
So how does the industry go about delivering the connected car? That is a question still waiting to be answered, but Berholtz is certain that Redbend “will make the foundations that the industry needs to reach it.”