25 Nov 21

Why will OTA prove to be a critical component for connected vehicles?

OTA is not new but neither is it widely recognised, the technology, however, is set to significantly impact the digital quality of a new generation of smart cars.

OTA (Over-the-Air). OTA is considered the key to cost-efficiency and customer satisfaction in connected vehicles. Yet, some car manufacturers are further ahead in OTA technology than others. 

What is OTA? 

OTA emerges as an update management technology in the automotive industry, enabling OEMs to perform a firmware or an application update over the air. The updates are delivered through a cellular or Wi-Fi network connection from a cloud server. OTA eliminates the need for manual updates and delivers advantages such as control over update processes and patching of security flaws.

OTA is applied through two methods known as Software over-the-air (SOTA) and Firmware over-the-air (FOTA) updates. SOTA enables OEMs to update interfaces in a connected vehicle, such as infotainment and navigation systems, while FOTA unlocks the ability to update the firmware of critical systems, including brakes, batteries and autonomous systems. 

What are the regulations on OTA? 

It will not be easy to manage OTA technology as the complexity is increasing with the addition of ML (machine learning) and neural networks to control update processes better and improve cyber security features. 

The UNECE WP.29 OTA and cybersecurity regulation has been in effect in 54 countries, including Europe, the UK, Japan and South Korea, since mid-2020. The code makes it obligatory for all OEMs operating in these markets to obtain WP.29 OTA as proof of compliance. The US implements a self-certification procedure for every OEM instead of WP.29. 

Who is leading the OTA technology? 

Tesla is considered the leader in automotive OTA technology; the EV maker has a built-in architecture for this technology in its cars. Tesla launched OTA services in 2012 in the Model S sedan and today reached the level of updating all software and firmware in a connected vehicle from basic infotainment systems to full-self-driving beta for Tesla models. 

The Chinese EV producer NIO appeared as the first company after Tesla to offer SOTA and FOTA. NIO FOTA was introduced in 2018, and in two years, a total of 131 new features were released. In 2020, OTA capabilities were enhanced, including the Pilot Assist function through FOTA. 

General Motors announced the first significant development in OTA in 2019, establishing the GM Vehicle Intelligence Platform (VIP). Developed in five years with a team of 300 engineers and built on over 100 patents, the "digital nerve system" can handle 4.5 TB of data per hour to process sensor data like LIDAR input and real-time traffic. "Ultifi", the end-to-end software platform announced in September 2021 and built on top of VIP, will enable OTA updates in all models by 2023. 

Hyundai, Honda, FCA, and Toyota still offer limited OTA features, while Ford, Volkswagen, and BMW take faster steps to close the gap. Mercedes-Benz is cooperating with Nvidia to enable OTA capabilities for all of its models by 2024.

What is the future of OTA? 

OTA service providers today offer multi-function capabilities for fleet management, including remote diagnostics and data analysis. Cloud-based platforms enable fleets to manage all OTA updates securely and gather data from in-vehicle firmware and software. Advanced OTA systems also provide updates on various connected car models in a fleet, regardless of their size. 

OTA update management will significantly improve the control of IoT devices on connected vehicles by enabling pre-categorising on the type and use of the device. Fleets can integrate OTA update managers with public cloud platforms or with an ERP system through API. 

The rapid development of connection technologies and cloud-based services will not only help fleets but OEMs and Tier-1 suppliers for in-vehicle software and firmware management. 

OTA will prove a significant challenge for OEMs with legacy system architectures and force them to update their digital systems. 

According to IHS Markit, only 30% of the vehicles sold in 2020 had OTA capabilities. Market Research Future (MRFR) report estimates the automotive OTA market will reach $14.47 billion by 2030. 

Image of GM digital vehicle platform, courtesy of GM.


Authored by: Mufit Yilmaz Gokmen