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A Lift Assist feature that’s standard on the new 330 and 336 hydraulic excavators can be added to the year-old 323 next-gen machine (shown) via remote flash. (Caterpillar)

Over-the-air affair

Vehicle connectivity is no longer an option in a world where the Internet of Things (IoT) continuously casts a broader net on the number and types of devices that interact with each other and exchange data.

“We look at a vehicle as simply a node on the Internet of Things,” said Andrew Dondlinger, VP and General Manager of Connected Services at Navistar. “Frankly, we believe that if you’re not a connected fleet or you’re not a connected OEM, you’ll be out of business.”

In the commercial vehicle (CV) sector, uptime is a major driver of increased telematics and connected services. Navistar is striving to achieve 100% uptime—an aggressive target but one that becomes necessary as the industry moves to more highly automated vehicles, according to Dondlinger.

“As we move toward electrification, we can get to 100% uptime,” he said. “And as we move toward autonomy, we have to have 100% uptime.”

Over-the-air (OTA) programming, which allows remote software updates without the need for a service visit, will play a key part in achieving this goal. Engine reprogramming of specific parameters has become a common application for OTA updating, ensuring the powerplant is running the latest calibration to reduce faults and improve operational efficiency.

Many heavy-duty engine makers, including Cummins, Detroit, International and Volvo Trucks, now offer OTA engine programming. The Detroit Connect platform, for example, enables OTA parameter changes and extraction of engine performance reports. The cellular-based remote updates are exclusive to the new Freightliner Cascadia spec’d with Detroit engines.

The time saved can be significant. Volvo’s remote programming of software takes less than 20 minutes, compared to a couple days of downtime to complete standard software downloads at a service location, according to Ashraf Makki, product marketing manager for Volvo Trucks North America. The process has already added thousands of days of uptime to its trucks, he said.

Remote software updates are “not just about fixing things,” Herwig Peschl, global marketing director at Caterpillar Inc., explained during the company’s annual year-end press briefing in Peoria, Ill. “It’s also allowing us to get new features on machines” that are already in the field.

A range of Cat machines are remote-flash enabled, including its next-generation excavators, all M3 series motor graders as well as the 140 and 24, and M series wheel loaders.

“This will revolutionize the way customers can interact with their machines,” Peschl said.

Among the 24 new machines Cat revealed at the briefing were the 330 and 336 hydraulic excavators. They follow the introduction of the 320 and 323 next-generation excavators a year earlier, which were developed with the ability to be “very easily upgradeable through apps, if you will,” said Brian Stellbrink, product application specialist.

“By using the base machine and the electrohydraulic system, we’re able to continue to offer new features via software that are available for the new 330 and 336 from the start,” he explained. “But maybe more importantly, these new technology features through software can be applied to a machine that was put into the field 12 months ago.”

As long as new hardware or a calibration is not required, the updates can be performed through remote flash, according to product application specialist Ryan Neal. A Lift Assist feature, which was still being developed when the 320 and 323 were launched, is one such example. It provides the operator with real-time information on the weight being lifted and where the safe working limits are for the machine.

5G and firmware updates

A connected vehicle is an enabler—not an end goal, according to Stephan Tarnutzer, president of AVL Powertrain Engineering and former VP of Electronics at FEV North America. “If all you want is a connected vehicle, you’re missing the point,” he said.

The emergence of 5G networks for wireless communications—with their promise of faster speeds, more reliable connections, and increased capacity—will further enhance OTA capabilities, according to Tarnutzer.

“We expect 5G to be rolled out in a couple of years in a variety of different cities…and with that, a true use to [jumpstart] firmware-over-the-air (FOTA) operation,” he said. “A lot of people talk about OTA; very few people do it on a vehicle level. With 5G, new possibilities will emerge.”

FOTA-based fixes—updates for any of the specific electronic control units (ECUs) in a vehicle—may be slower to implement, but companies are developing and offering solutions today.

Dallas-based Mobiliya, a QuEST Global company, showcased at CES in January an adaptive FOTA solution that reduces downtime for vehicle ECUs. Currently, the upgrade process is tedious with a lot of manual intervention involved, according to Krish Kupathil, head of Digital and Hi-Tech at QuEST Global.

“The key advantage of FOTA is its adaptive upgrade process based on ECU hardware capabilities like RAM, ROM and CPU,” Kupathil explained to Truck & Off-Highway Engineering. “While implementing firmware upgrades using this solution that’s hosted on cloud, adaptive FOTA calculates the binary differentials between existing ECU firmware and new firmware available and generates an output—an Adaptive Delta file. Adaptive Delta Technology helps with easy synchronization of files by changing only the blocks of data that need to be updated instead of copying entire files, thereby saving bandwidth and synchronization time.”

5G connectivity will improve network latency, which will further help with FOTA upgrade performance, Kupathil added.

Also at CES, ZF demonstrated a range of applications enabled by its open ZF IoT platform based on Microsoft Azure, across the commercial vehicle and off-highway sectors in addition to automotive. For example, a new TraXon Predictive Maintenance function for the modular transmission allows CV manufacturers and fleet operators to proactively plan vehicle maintenance.

“The current scope is data collection, analytics and monitoring,” Barath Indrakumar, VP of Digital Concepts & Business at ZF, told TOHE. “However, we already have customer requests to perform firmware OTA updates for the electronic control unit. We have successfully completed a proof-of-concept and working demonstration.”

With the increasing use of automated driving functions, the ZF IoT platform will be a crucial hub for OTA updates, according to Indrakumar. He noted that there are no challenges with OTA that are unique to commercial trucks and off-highway machines.

“To the contrary, applying OTA updates in commercial and off-highway vehicles is relatively easier compared to passenger cars,” Indrakumar said. “The reason for this is the CAN protocol is much more standardized—for example, SAE J1939 is widely used.”

OTA updating will increasingly be employed to add new features and functionality to ZF systems.

“We have customer requests and work in progress to do software OTAs,” Indrakumar shared. “We have [conducted] successful demonstrations—for example, enabling/changing shifting patterns and speed limits, based on highway versus city driving conditions.”

Future-proofing for unexpected features

During an exclusive interview, Mary Gustanski, Senior VP and Chief Technology Officer for Delphi Technologies, discussed the company’s expertise in power electronics and controls—and its push to “future proof” controllers so perhaps-yet-unknown feature enhancements can be made to vehicles in the coming years.

“What we continue to do with controllers is add more and more computing power so that we’re future-proofing them, because everything is software-enabled now,” she said. “We’ve added in enough computing power so we can continue to add features and functionality in this controller for the future.”

The Generation 7 controller, specifically designed for heavy- and medium-duty truck, bus and off-highway applications, uses Delphi’s DIFlex ASICs (application specific integrated circuits) for enhanced fuel injection waveform control and diagnostics. It includes the latest cybersecurity protection so vehicle OEMs can offer OTA software updates. The next-gen controller is expected to be in production for the 2020 model year.

“With over-the-air, you need to make sure that your controllers are not totally used up as soon as you launch that program—you want to have some room to grow,” Gustanski said.

Two years ago, Delphi acquired Michigan-based Movimento to help with its OTA endeavors. The software startup provides OTA software lifecycle and data management for the automotive sector including CVs.

Gustanski believes that these capabilities will not only benefit future programs, but possibly its aftermarket offerings as well.

“When we’re doing things like intelligent driving and using connected features, could we offer applications to the consumer or the driver down the road to improve the performance of their vehicle? We haven’t ruled that out,” she said. “That’s the one thing the ‘new kids on the block’ like Tesla really did for the automotive world—prove that over-the-air updates work. Now it’s opened up a whole new world for vehicle owners and expectations.”

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