OTA platform puts an end to the complexity in software updates

October 02, 2017 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
The automotive industry is working feverishly on making its rolling computers updateable via an air interface. With each step, however, the difficulties of this undertaking become clearer, because the devil is in the details: the software for the dozens of ECUs in the cars cannot be updated as easily as a smartphone. Excelfore, a provider of cloud platforms for the transport industry, promises a solution to the problem.

Excelfore’s eSync system attacks the OTA problem at several levels: It offers a comprehensive infrastructure layer in the cloud. Operated by the OEMs, this system connects to the cars on one hand and to the various subsystem suppliers, enabling them to feed their software updates into the system. Thus, it offers an orchestrating layer to multiple software source.

“In our eyes, it is a mistake to regard the car as a “thing” in the Internet of Things”, explains Shrikant Acharya, CTO of Excelfore. “The car is different. We regard all these embedded computers in the car, such the various domains like ADAS, body systems or head unit, as separate IoT nodes each.” Each of these domains is divided into different ECUs that share a common gateway, and all domain gateways are connected to the vehicle gateway.

With his concept, Excelfore takes into account another relatively new trend in automotive electronics: Virtual domains, connected through Ethernet backbones. (see figure 1 ). In the vehicles, the eSync system anticipates a small software agent that actually coordinates the various activities of the update process such as software download, decryption and decompression, validation, and finally exchanging the software version and restarting the virtual ECU (an activity that in most cases can only take place when the car is parked and systems are switched off).

Fig. 1: Vehicle domain architecture with connection to OTA server in the cloud

The eSync system is bi-directional and follows a bi-directional security concept. The end-to-end compression, along with a technique to reduce the data to be transferred to the necessary minimum (“delta”) reduces airwave and telecommunication cost.