Stuttgart / Wolfsburg Correcting small errors and adding new functions – what was often possible in the workshop in the past is now possible in some cars “over the air” by radio. And this is only the beginning.
The more software is used in the car and the better the vehicles are interconnected, the more the industry is geared towards smartphones and computers. Regularly plays updates.
Instead of bringing their customers to workshops to do so, manufacturers are increasingly taking advantage of integrated mobile connectivity and wireless data transmission.
The magic is called over-the-air updates, or OTA for short. This would enable vehicles to better keep pace with the increasing pace of innovation and stay young for longer. Because, unlike the above, innovations will be available not only faster, but also for cars that have already been delivered.
“Remote update is the new facelift,” says Magnus Ostberg, Mercedes’ head of electronics development. Stylists will continue to offer classic facelifts. But at least engineers will have to push the “submit” button more and more in the future.
“This will enable us to deliver innovations more quickly in the future and make them accessible to a larger group of customers. Instead of the previous three-year cycle, innovations will come after every six months,” Ostberg says.
Bits and bytes occupied in the background
Customers don’t have to do much for it, Ostberg continues. Ideally, updates run automatically in the background. The systems update themselves, and only when the completion message appears on the screen do you find that there is an update. “Of course, only if the customer pre-approves these updates,” Ostberg says.
Until now, this was mostly about information, entertainment or navigation, but recently central functions have also become the focus of programmers’ attention. “This applies above all to electric cars,” says Stefan Muller of electric car rental company Nextmove.
Over the Air improvements
Development times, especially when it comes to battery-related topics, are very short. Pressure is high to introduce new technologies into serial production at an early stage. “This is why development continues step by step while cars are already on the road,” Muller says. In this way, power management, charge capacity or later adaptive route planning can also be improved, for example, reducing downtime or increasing range.
With a remote update, these subsequent improvements can be implemented more quickly and easily, and at the same time, errors can be better debugged. “Previously, it couldn’t be turned off until years after a facelift, or you had to pull the rope with a summons.” Now, on the other hand, all the new software requires is a finger point on the touchscreen.
Many improvements via update – this can take some time too
The latest and at the same time far-reaching example comes from VW Group. Program 3.0 is currently running for parent brand ID models and their electric siblings on Audi, Skoda and Cupra.
“With it we are improving the voice control, there are new graphics and screens on the displays, the assistance systems are learning, the charging capacity is increased and the range is improved,” says spokesperson Stefan Voswinkel. So it’s not surprising that a large amount of data is included: “It takes about six hours to download and install,” Stefan Muller decided.
Some experts see the risks as well as the benefits. One concern: Manufacturers may be tempted to bring a “vehicle not yet fully developed” to market, according to the ADAC for its part. As a result, possible errors in the program can be “secretly” removed. In this way, security-related issues can also be “covertly fixed with an update” without an official recall.
From update to upgrade – not free
Most of the updates have been free so far and at a significant cost to customers. But the industry has long since discovered online facelifts as a business model. In addition to updates, there are upgrades. According to Jan Burgard, manufacturers can be well paid by strategy consultant Berrylls.
By doing so, he bridges the gap to what is known as “on-demand jobs”: manufacturers hope to make exorbitant sales of this in the future, even after their cars have already been sold.
“So far it’s only been the little things like new lighting scenarios or extra comfort or nice tricks, but we’re only getting started,” Burgard says.
Mercedes software chief Ostberg sees it the same way. He can imagine, for example, that you no longer ask for the expensive self-driving Drive Pilot in the S-Class for an average four-figure sum when you buy it, but just book it for the day or week, say earlier. Long trips on the highway.
© dpa-infocom, dpa: 220509-99-217950 / 4
Here is the photo gallery: In-car ‘over the air’ updates