Unlike traditional cars, modern cars are operated by million lines of code to do the cool things that they are designed to do. For example to just run a standard navigation and infotainment system, there are about 20 million lines of code and like all software, it needs to be updated regularly whether it is for bug fix or adding new features. The issue with this is how to implement it into the cars that are already sold to the public.
Traditionally, whenever there is an update to the cars’ software, the automakers had to issue a formal recall, train their dealer service technicians on how to update the car and the car owners need to bring the car to the workshop to get the update done. All these results in high cost as such that it needs to be done when there is no other way.
The good news is that starting from 2015, about 20 percent of vehicles sold worldwide will be embedded with some kind of connectivity module and the number of connected cars sold globally is expected to grow more than six fold to 152 million by 2020 as reported by Forbes Business. Therefore, the modern cars software should be able to be updated by using OTA method similar to how you update your smart phones or tablets currently.
Jim Pisz, Corporate Manager of North American Business Strategy for Toyota has been spending a lot of time working on OTA technology for cars. He explained that every new car sold around the world would have a data communications modules and it was not just about infotainment but more to the functionality of the vehicle. He added that it was about the car telling the customer that it was not feeling well before the customer knew (about it) and if a fault code came up, it went to a big data centre and it was noted as an exception. The information then will go back to the dealer or customer. It uses the same data connection that provides the drivers with real-time navigation information and safety services.
However, there is also a downside for this method as it can be hacked. Researchers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller proved this by hacking into several cars through their data communications modules and able to take control of the moving vehicle remotely for some cases. Therefore, it does not take a long time for data security for automobiles to move up the priority list. One way to solve this issue is by using encryption to keep each of the automakers’ systems a secret. As it is a proprietary system, therefore automakers are free to use their own encryption method.
The benefit of using OTA updates for cars is that automakers can realize savings up to $2.7 billion in 2015 and growing to $35 billion by 2022 as estimated by IHS Automotive. On top of that, it could reduce warranty costs, potentially increase overall completion rates for software-related recalls as well as improve customer satisfaction by not requiring them to go to the dealership to just update their cars’ software.
Another concern regarding OTA updates is that some personal info could be reported back to the big data centre and it could be sold to the third party or used it to challenge you. Unfortunately there is no law or governing regulations for this in United States. Pisz assured that Toyota does not need personal information and that it will not be automatic.
Regardless, OTA updates for cars will become parts of your life in the next ten years.