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The Race for Autonomous Cars

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Automobile Software Can Now be Updated While Driving

June 15th 2017

Traffic Jam

With the amount of software in today’s cars in the dimension of millions of lines of code, updating vehicle software today is a cumbersome business. Now Continental has created the necessary technology and infrastructure to enable secure software updates over the air, doing away with the need to visit the garage for every update.

With significance for software for the user experience of car buyers updates having dramatically increased over the past decade or so, automotive manufacturers are feverishly working on solutions to establish similar mechanisms for their vehicles. So far, only Tesla dares to update the software of its cars automatically. All others look jealously over the fence, frightened by the prospect of a terrible glitch or, even worse, a cyber attack against the transmission path. Also, updating a vehicle’s software is somewhat more complex than updating a smartphone’s operating system: Up to 100 computers are involved, and since they are all connected, the activities of most of them can have side effects on others. Plus, the number of possible variants and options in a car is much bigger than in a smartphone. And last but not least, no one can afford a failed software update – in a car such a situation would have far more serious consequences than with a smartphone.

Therefore, despite intensive R&D activities by companies like RedBend Software or Harman, the roll-out of solutions for software updates over the air for cars seemed to got stuck for quite a while. Now it seems like Continental has made the grade: The automotive supplier has developed the necessary solutions at the hardware level in the car and established a reseller relationship with Texas-based company Carnegie Technology which offers a software update platform. Continental will integrate this software into its automotive telematics solutions. The software will run on the next generation of Continental’s telematics module along with a supporting cloud-based component for analysis and diagnosis functions.

During the ride, this technology aggregates the bandwidths of available transmission paths and the seamless handover between mobile radio cells as well as between different wireless technologies such as WiFi, LTE, 3G and satellite connections. As a supplement to the terrestrial networks Continental together with satellite communications provider Inmarsat is currently developing wireless update techniques for satellite-based software updates. This will enable worldwide updates for vehicles and makes car vendors widely independent from mobile radio operators. For the update process, the Continental platform establishes a two-way satellite data connection.

Carnegie’s software solution is constantly monitoring and assessing the quality of the available network connections options. It then selects the connection that promises the fastest, most reliable and most cost-effective connection. Through its VehicleLink function, it can also use smartphones, laptops or similar devices integrated into the car and the bandwidth they can contribute. To reduce communications cost, the system also has access to external WiFi cells. The Carnegie solution also makes sure the downloads are resumed after interruptions, for instance if a car has passed through a tunnel. Likewise, this solution also manages voice calls to and from the vehicle and allows a broad range of priority options.

At the device level, Continental’s in-car networking modules can be either integrated into a smart antenna module or be used as an independent telematics unit. They are complemented by gateway units that in turn are connected to the vehicle’s internal data buses, providing the infrastructure for the OTA updates.

The solutions will be introduced to the public at the international automotive exhibition in September in Frankfurt Germany.


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