In the auto industry, Firmware-Over-The-Air (FOTA) updates refers to the remote updating or upgrading of a vehicle’s firmware. Firmware refers to the low-level software that controls hardware components, from engine management to safety systems. FOTA updates can implement crucial changes to enhance performance, safety features, and even fuel efficiency.
These updates are typically done over a secure WiFi connection or a high-speed cellular network.
FOTA updates are being utilised in various industries, including consumer electronics, mobile devices, and IoT devices. In the age of connected cars, FOTA updates are becoming increasingly important. This is because the number of Electronic Control Units (ECUs) employed in the automotive industry to control various processes within a vehicle is on the rise. Even now, modern, high-end connected cars are estimated to contain over 100 million lines of code distributed across their ECUs. In essence, the greater the number of lines of code, the more crucial it becomes to ensure timely updates.
The target vehicle needs to be parked and turned off for the updating process to start. Once the vehicle receives the update notification, it begins the download over the air via a server or cloud-based platform. Before the update is installed, it undergoes verification and authentication to ensure a secure and reliable delivery.
Connected cars and future software-defined vehicles are equipped with advanced onboard computer systems that control various functions and may require regular updates to enhance performance, add new features, or address security vulnerabilities. Car manufacturers can apply bug fixes, security batch updates, and functionality to end-user vehicles without requiring physical visits to service centres.
Furthermore, new capabilities can be added as a method of future-proofing the vehicle by adapting to changing regulations, industry standards, or emerging technologies.
For end customers, remote updates and fixes result in convenience, saved time, and added safety. For manufacturers, it significantly lowers the time to market and decreases the cost of managing high volumes of software.
There are some potential drawbacks associated with FOTA updates. One concern is the potential exploitation of security vulnerabilities during the update process, which could lead to a compromised system or unauthorised access by malicious actors.
Reliability and stability must be the focus of FOTA because updates have the potential to introduce unforeseen issues or bugs. Rolling back to a previous firmware version can be challenging or even impossible. Users may be stuck until the manufacturer provides a fix. Similarly, if an update fails or gets interrupted, it can leave the vehicle in an unstable state and the driver stranded until help from the manufacturer is available.
As the automotive industry continues to evolve, FOTA updates will likely play an increasingly vital role in managing the complexity of software-defined vehicles and ensuring their optimal performance and security.
- Over-the-Air (OTA) updates
- Wireless firmware updates