Wake Up to a New Truck in the Morning, With Over–the–Air Software Updates



The race is on to develop over–the–air (OTA) software update technology in the trucking industry. Bug fixes and new features could be delivered wirelessly overnight while the truck driver is busy making “Z’s” in the back of the cab. No stopover at the shop or mechanic required!

OTA Could Save the Industry $40 Billion by 2023

According to a July report from IHS Markit OTA updates could save the global automotive industry up to $40 billion by 2023. The industry research firm estimates that 140 million passenger vehicles globally will be equipped with cloud enabled technology enabling OTA updates. Nearly 20 million will have the ability to download updates directly into their core electronic control unit, which runs every major component, including the engine.

Tesla pioneered the concept and set the gold standard. Tesla has been delivering new features using over–the–air updates since the introduction of the Model S in 2012. They started out with minor UI changes in customer experience features but progressed to more feature-rich updates with the advent of their Autopilot software. Upgrades have included raising the suspension to reduce risk to the undercarriage, installing remote start and introducing automatic emergency braking.

Traditional Automotive Has Been Slow on the Uptake

The traditional automotive industry has been slow on the uptake to adopt over-the-air update technology and needs to pick up the pace. Auto manufacturers cite, with some validity, the danger of hacking and Elon Musk, president of Tesla, says preventing a “fleet-wide” hack is Tesla’s top security priority. Musk has put preventive measures in place such as manual overrides and specialized encryption for each multiple subsystem, but it still remains a top concern. Auto manufacturers developing this technology will also need to adopt similar preventive measures.

Another challenge is that the full benefit of over-the-air updates and fixes can only be realized if the engine, powertrain and other mechanical elements have been designed from the ground up to accept software control. Tesla has a distinct advantage in this regard. For example GM are working on a new electrical vehicle architecture that will allow over-the-air software updates which they hope to launch by 2020. As quoted in a Left Lane News article:

“We are in the process of deploying a new electrical architecture, which is a pretty comprehensive undertaking, and that’s well under way … as well as a whole new generation of infotainment systems,” GM CEO Mary Bara said during a conference call. “You’ll see us have that capability as we move forward.”

How Do Authorized Dealerships Fit Into This Picture?

However the biggest challenge facing the traditional auto manufacturers is their relationship with authorized dealerships, a challenge that Tesla does not have. As reported in Trucks.com

“Traditional automakers are required to have authorized dealerships deal with recalls and technical service bulletins, said Colin Bird, senior analyst for IHS Markit. Automakers pay dealers an estimated $70 to $100 for each vehicle they work on. The tab can add up in a recall that affects hundreds of thousands or even millions of vehicles. OTA updates threaten that revenue stream, Bird said.”

Tesla’s new semi-truck is planned for release next month and will undoubtedly incorporate advanced over-the-air software updates. However the trucking industry seems to be a bit more advanced in its development of the technology.

Commercial Vehicle Companies Are Embracing OTA Technology

Navistar began offering OTA updates in 2016 for certain International brand trucks. Owners of trucks built since 2010 can get the technology for a fee. From the same Trucks.com article:

“We think of a truck and its modules that we reprogram as just apps on an iPhone,” said Terry Kline, chief intelligence officer at Navistar. “You upgrade your apps tonight, and tomorrow you’ve got the new version.”

“Imagine the savings for someone not having to drive 300 miles to get new software for their engines,” Kline said. “We’re trying to maximize the uptime of the vehicle and minimize the impact to the driver.”

Many commercial vehicle companies are embracing the technology:

In much the same way as Tesla offer Autopilot as an option truck manufacturers could offer new features and functions for purchase.

Truckers have already inquired about downloading extra muscle for short trips, or installing software than loosens emission restrictions when they cross state lines and different laws are enforced, Kline said.

“If you’re going to be up in the Rocky Mountains this weekend you could buy 50 more horsepower,” he said. “That’s definitely something we’re talking about.”

If you’re interested in learning how shipping by rail and truck might better meet your freight transportation needs call New Mexico Transloading at 505 – 908 – 1911. We’d be delighted to have a conversation with you.

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