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Over-the-air updating is becoming more common as connectivity rises. (ZF)

Security, bandwidth drive over-the-air development

Over-the-air (OTA) updating has evolved rapidly from a limited function to a wide-ranging technology for keeping vehicle software up to date. As OTA moves deeper into the mainstream, commercial-vehicle suppliers are focusing on security and techniques that efficiently allow downloading of a growing number of files.

Truck and off-highway equipment suppliers are racing to extend their offerings. Navistar augmented its Wi-Fi OTA technology with cellular services earlier this year. Volvo Trucks and Mack updated their updating programs last fall. Daimler Trucks recently went global with its OTA offerings. Caterpillar now uses the technology to add features, not just for software patches.

Several engine makers use connectivity to tweak systems so engines run more efficiently. Security is a common thread for all connected vehicle programs.

“We’ve provided OTA for our 15-liter engine for two years. We intentionally thought about security during the development process,” said Larry Hilkene, chief cybersecurity engineer at Cummins. “It’s a risk management issue.”

Commercial-vehicle OEMs continue to develop the techniques for updating software, but they’re also leveraging advances made by automotive companies. There are differences between enabling OTA software updates and data management for commercial vehicles and passenger cars. However, the use cases are quite different.

“One example is restricting commercial-vehicle software update approvals to commercial fleet operators versus drivers, whereas for non-commercial vehicles the drivers can provide software update approvals,” said Scott Frank, VP of Marketing at Airbiquity. “The OTA software and service delivery management capabilities also need to accommodate unique commercial and non-commercial vehicle requirements on the vehicle side, cloud side, and back-end connections with the automotive OEMs and any authorized suppliers and third parties.”

Cloud services are a central element in OTA strategies. Many vehicle companies started by using their own cloud services for software updates, but that’s changed over time. Public cloud services have improved their security while dropping effective prices, often making them more efficient than private clouds.

“We use the Microsoft Azure IoT Hub,” said Jiri Benes, embedded software engineer at ZF’s Digitalization Department. “This cloud computing platform is providing good support to our team, thus allowing us to focus on the expansion of our business rather than handling OTA internally. Using a standardized and secured end-to-end communication protocol also helps us to future-proof our connected business and enables the growth of bi-directional Internet of Things connectivity.”

Airbiquity designed its software distribution platform, OTAmatic, to work with public or private clouds as well as private on-premise data centers. That approach makes it easy for OEMs and fleet owners to implement their own strategies while using common tools.

“OTAmatic was designed to leverage standards-based technology as much as possible to strengthen the solution and ease integration,” Frank said. “It can also be broken down into functional components that can integrate into existing OTA solutions and ecosystems, and can be deployed on private clouds, public clouds, and on-premise data centers.”

Scalability is a major issue. Most OTA programs are now fairly limited in scope, but that’s expected to change quickly. Many users will want to scale up OTA offerings to include more electronic control units, infotainment systems and other additional systems.

“The biggest hurdle is having a portal for customer interface that is stable and up to date,” Benes said. “The backend software and hardware must be able to handle many simultaneous clients, which is something we are continuously working on in order to deliver the best customer service. Any telematics company is only as good as its bandwidth to support.”

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