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Over-the-air (OTA) software updates are growing in importance and auto OEMs are scrambling to implement OTA capabilities in most current and all future models. The parallel transition to software-defined vehicles (SDVs) amplifies the importance of OTA. In essence, OTA is a core technology for SDVs from design, development, and manufacturing and especially through their lifetime of use.
This column explores the interactions between OTA and SDVs. I will use OTA platforms from Sibros as an example for this discussion because the company has SDV customers, including battery electric vehicle (BEV) clients. Most BEV companies are leaders in deploying SDV technology.
Sibros is an OTA startup founded in 2018 with VC funding of over $85 million, $70 million of which was received in January 2022. Key automotive-related companies like Fontinalis Partners, Google, and Qualcomm have invested in Sibros.
The founders have experience with Tesla, Uber, and other auto startups. Tesla’s SDV and OTA experiences have been useful in designing Sibros’s OTA platforms.
Sibros has production orders to deploy over a million vehicles for its OTA platform across 16 customers, primarily in the U.S., U.K., EU, and India. Public known customers include Volta Trucks (Sweden), Bajai Auto (India), Lightyear (Netherlands), and e.Go Mobile (Germany).
Sibros has been successful in gaining EV customers that range from two-wheel vehicles to multiple BEVs. The latest customer is Sono Motors and its Sion BEV, with solar panels covering most of its body.
Sibros has built a partner ecosystem across the hardware, silicon, and cloud software segments for its OTA platforms. Currently, Sibros has pre-integrated hardware-ready tool kits from over 10 partner suppliers. These products are ready to plug and play in customer prototype evaluations and validation efforts.
The table below shows Sibros’s OTA platforms in the black boxes in the middle. The left blue boxes show how SDVs are influencing OTA capabilities and functionality. The red blocks in the figure show cybersecurity and safety factors that create strong pull for OTA platform features and characteristics.
SDV technology is a work in progress that has come a long way and will see substantial advances in the next decade. SDV needs are impacting and increasing OTA platforms’ capabilities across multiple segments.
SDVs must have wireless cloud connections that are now transitioning from 4G to 5G. Connected cars require built-in OTA and cybersecurity as part of lifetime access to all ECUs.
SDV architecture is moving to domain ECUs connected via Ethernet networks. Legacy compatibility with CAN, LIN, and FlexRay buses will be needed for a long time.
Service-oriented architecture (SOA) is becoming a preferred software design for cloud-based software platforms. SOA is already impacting OTA cloud-based platforms.
BEVs are leading the SDV transition because in most cases, there is no need for legacy compatibilities. Hence, most BEV startups use an SDV architecture.
BEVs have other OTA needs to manage the battery system software, including BMS algorithms, battery status, battery-cell balancing, and battery thermal safety monitoring.
BEV fires are rare, but when it happens, they are much more difficult to extinguish than gasoline fires. Dormant fires can also happen, and software-based monitoring and warning are needed.
A recent article on BEV fires has good perspectives.
Sibros OTA platform
The traditional advantages of OTA platforms are to fix software defects, reduce OEMs’ recall costs, and provide customer convenience and time savings. With SDV growth, the most important OTA feature is to upgrade functionality and performance over the lifetime of the vehicle. Data from the car is also becoming more significant for SDVs, and OTA platforms are tapping into this opportunity.
Sibros’s OTA solutions are organized as one platform to lower multi-vendor integration development, complexity, and cost. The OTA is organized as four logical software platforms, described below.
Deep Connected Platform
The Deep Connected Platform (DCP) manages the connected vehicle ecosystem, including the three other software platforms. It is an integrated vehicle-to-cloud system that combines embedded auto software and SaaS applications that enable and manage all of Sibros’s OTA functionality.
A core DCP function is to manage the connected vehicle ecosystem, including all vehicle embedded software and cloud-based platforms. A key part of this function is to manage vehicle software configurations across many auto models and their individual and cumulative vehicles in the field. Sibros believes it has covered these complex software-configuration tasks for SDVs better than its competitors.
The DCP manages the other three OTA platforms:
- The OTA Deep Updater provides software updates to every ECU. It completes all the software updates and is integrated with the OEM’s cloud software and cloud service provider. It provides secure software updates for every controller on any vehicle architecture over its lifetime.
- The OTA Deep Logger collects data from every ECU. This functionality is growing rapidly from SDV needs and from expanding connected vehicle services. Examples are fleet management information, predictive maintenance, usage-based insurance, and location-based services.
- The OTA Command Manager sends remote commands to any ECU. The most common are diagnostics commands, but user tasks like remote-control functions have grown recently.
Sibros’s OTA embedded software runs on a telematics control unit or a gateway. The OTA embedded software size for two-wheelers is about 32 KB. Full-function OTA embedded software size for high-end vehicles can be up to 2 MB.
OTA Deep Updater
The OTA Deep Updater works with any vehicle powertrain and any ECU network configuration. Sibros has experience in updating electric bikes, cars, trucks, buses, tractors, and other vehicles. It has especially strong experience in updating electric vehicles.
The OTA Deep Updater has pre- and post-condition safety checks that are customizable to ensure that all ECU updates start and end in a safe state. It also does automatic retries and confirms that updates are correctly downloaded and installed.
It can create large-scale deployments based on all metadata — location, model, model year, trim level, and other characteristics. It can skip outdated update versions and install the latest version.
It can use a universal package in which all software versions are deployed in one package for every ECU. This feature reduces OTA update complexity.
The OTA Deep Updater is organized as six embedded and clod components: Deployment Manager, Package Manager, Update Manager, Firmware Packager, Sibros Armor (automotive-grade OTA cybersecurity), and Integration & Support.
OTA Deep Logger
The OTA Deep Logger filters and logs data from all ECUs. The data has a timestamp and provides a data audit trail. The logged data provides the basis for a growing number of connected vehicle applications like fleet management, predictive maintenance, usage-based insurance, and location-based services. Sibros’s cloud portal provides many of these applications with a user interface to visualize and analyze the current and historical data.
The collected data is compatible with multiple operating systems, including Android, FreeRTOS, Yocto Embedded Linux, QNX, and any POSIX-compliant OS.
OTA Command Manager
The OTA Command Manager sends commands to execute specific tasks in ECUs. It can activate remote commands for vehicle users or OEM diagnostic services to any ECU. SDVs are likely to increase the importance of this segment.
Security & safety pull
Automotive software must meet many security and safety standards and regulations, ranging from cybersecurity and IT security to design and operational security, with user data protection growing in importance.
A growing security concern in the auto industry is cybersecurity. For OTA, it is probably the top security issue. There are now multiple cybersecurity standards that OTA products must meet.
Sibros uses IEEE’s Uptane Standard for securely deploying OTA updates. Uptane was designed to ensure that only OEM-signed/-authorized images are installed. Uptane is an open-source project that became an IEEE standard in 2018.
The UNECE WP.29 standard covers both cybersecurity and OTA software updates. The Cyber Security Management System (CSMS) covers cybersecurity management rules. The Software Update Management System (SUMS) regulates OTA usage. Sibros is compatible with WP.29.
The ISO/SAE 21434 cybersecurity regulation for road vehicles was released in June 2021. It focuses on cybersecurity risks in the design and development of car electronics. The standard covers cybersecurity governance and structured, secure engineering throughout the vehicle’s life cycle.
ISO 27001 is the leading international standard focused on information security that was developed to help organizations, of any size or any industry, to protect their information in a systematic and cost-effective way, through the adoption of an Information Security Management System.
Software Process Improvement and Capability dEtermination (SPICE) is a framework for software process assessment. It was developed by ISO and IEC in 1993 as the ISO/IEC 15504 standard. Automotive SPICE (ASPICE) applies the SPICE framework to the automotive industry. ASPICE is becoming important for SDVs and OTA software updates.
ASPICE differs from functional safety, ISO 26262, by covering how design is conducted if safety is not a concern. To ensure overall safety practices, automotive suppliers should incorporate both ASPICE and ISO 26262 guidelines.
ISO 9001:2015 specifies requirements for a quality management system. The standard helps any organization increase quality of products and services, improve customer satisfaction, and reduce risks.
SOC 2 specifies a security framework for protecting customer data from unauthorized access, security incidents, and other vulnerabilities. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants developed SOC 2 around five criteria: confidentiality, security, availability, processing integrity, and privacy.
Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is well known and is required for OTA software updates. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is a similar data protection that is growing in importance.
Sibros is compatible with these security and safety standards. Sibros is adding compatibility with the ISO/SAE 21434 cybersecurity standard.
There are likely to be future-user data protections that will impact automotive software and OTA. AI regulation is on the way in Europe and will eventually impact software and OTA in the U.S.
OTA software update platforms are growing in importance due to rapid conversion to automotive electronics systems based on SDV architectures. OTA platforms are now a required technology. The transition to SDVs is making OTA software platforms more valuable and with increasing functionality. Sibros’s OTA platforms described in this column are a good example of how SDVs are changing the OTA architecture and functionality.
Most of the OTA players are expanding their OTA platform functionality to include ECU data collection, remote diagnostics, and other connected vehicle services. Most OTA companies are growing rapidly.
OTA functionality expansion and deployment growth will result in more overlap and competition with Tier 1 suppliers. The SDV trend is creating challenges for most Tier 1s, as OEMs are bringing more software in-house. It is likely that Tier 1s will acquire some to the OTA platform players to boost their software capabilities in the SDV era. Some acquisitions have already happened, with Harmon’s acquisition of Red Bend in 2015 as the most important. Future OTA acquisitions are expected.