Over-the-air technology facilitates software updates for cars

June 04, 2013 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
With the amount of software installed in automotive ECUs exploding, carmakers increasingly face the problem how to update or exchange software in the "installed base", that is the cars out on the streets. Serious bugs in this software time and again trigger huge recall actions which are extremely costly. It looks like software vendor Red Bend now has the solution.

Red Bend claims to be market leader in the field of mobile software management (MSM) - more than 1.75 billion portable devices including smartphones use the Red Bend technology for online updates. The company now sets its foot into the automotive realm: These days, it inked a contract with automotive software tool vendor Vector Informatik; the Stuttgart, Germany, based will integrate Red Bend's Firmware Over-The-Air (FOTA) Update Installer into its own Flash Bootloader (FBL). The Red Bend technology provides a very bandwidth- and time-saving way to transfer the update data since it transmits only those pieces of the software that actually are different. This greatly helps to reduce the amount of data to be transferred, said Yoram Berholtz, Director, Market Adoption for Red Bend.

With this method, software updates can take place either across the internal communication bus (typically Ethernet / CAN) or over the air (OTA); it can be done in the final phase of a vehicle's production or out in the field. Vector's FBL utilizes several different component to reprogram ECUs.


Fig. 1: Software updates or bug fixes can be carried out faster and easier - eventually even without bringing the vehicle to the garage.

These components include bootloader, Flash driver and Flash scripts. Red Bend's FOTA enables fast and safe updates, since only the differences between old and new firmware versions (the "delta") need to be transferred. This solution helps to cut operating and warranty costs for car manufacturers and tier ones. End users benefit also from the technology: If their vehicle needs a software update, be it for safety reasons, for bug fixing or to implement new functions, they do not need to bring their vehicle to the garage anymore. Instead, they can download the update wirelessly through a smartphone or a WiFi hot spot.