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Software Over the Air

As the automotive industry takes a leap into the future with exciting new innovations such as autonomous vehicle technology and intelligent telematics systems, it follows logically that traditional methods of vehicle maintenance are beginning to fade into the past. Most modern vehicles, especially those equipped with electric or autonomous features, operate on some form of software. Software integration is hardly new as far as vehicles are concerned; over the past decade, more and more vehicles have come to rely on complex software systems rather than traditional manual operations. Even during this time, however, the standard method of updating vehicle software has required drivers and owners to make a trip to their dealerships, where updates are delivered via a USB flash drive. This update process can be quite time-consuming, especially for fleet vehicles for whom every minute of downtime accumulates to produce enormous costs. On average, a commercial vehicle requires four software updates per year, with dealer update visits resulting in up to two days of downtime over the course of the year.

We may not immediately think to question the efficacy of this mode of updating vehicle software. After all, routine vehicle maintenance has always required the downtime associated with in-person service visits. And while some manual service is still necessary for even the most advanced of vehicles, eliminating dealership visits for software updates can significantly decrease the amount of time that a vehicle is out of commission.

Think for a minute of your smartphone – imagine that every time your phone required a new software update, you had to bring it into the store. Sounds incredibly inconvenient, right? Thankfully, our phones don’t require this kind of in-person service for routine updates. Smartphone software updates are sent directly to devices, and users can download these updates at the time and place most convenient to them.

Not long ago, this now-familiar update process wasn’t feasible. Prior to the release of iOS 5 in late 2011, even Apple devices required users to download updates via USB. The smartphone updates we receive today use Over-the-Air (or OTA) update technology, a relatively new development in software engineering. It’s hard to imagine our smartphones without OTA capabilities now, so why should we expect any less of our vehicles?

Luckily, software OTA updates are becoming increasingly widespread for vehicles. While Tesla has led the charge in terms of OTA updates, other OEMs - including long-established auto manufacturers such as Ford, Toyota, and Volvo - have started to climb on board in recent years. OTA software updates are becoming a necessity for survival in an increasingly competitive, high-tech automotive industry, and for good reason.

On the surface, the most apparent benefit of OTA technology may be its convenience. Receiving updates over the air can prevent hours of costly downtime, but the advantages of OTA updates don’t end here. OTA capabilities not only save fleets and drivers the headache of a trip to a dealership; they also support telematics data collection, give customers the opportunity to purchase optional upgrades, and keep vehicles in compliance with the latest safety and quality standards. As 90% of passenger vehicle recalls are software related, OTA capabilities both keep passengers safe and make the recall process as easy and low-cost as possible for manufacturers.

As vehicles become more technologically complex, it is more important than ever to keep them up to date. OTA updates are a convenient, user-friendly method of delivering the latest software versions to vehicles, ensuring that no vehicle falls behind the times.

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