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What is an automotive over-the-air update?

Autovista24 | 25 Feb 2022

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Cars are becoming increasingly digital, with new software capabilities redefining what was once a feat of engineering. This creates an opportunity for continual development as system updates provide fresh features, while also squashing bugs long after a model leaves the showroom. But what are over-the-air (OTA) updates, how do they work, and perhaps most importantly, what do they mean for the future of cars? Autovista24 journalist Tom Geggus explains in the latest ‘What is?’ video.

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All up in the air

The automotive industry is surging with OTA software updates. For example, Volkswagen (VW) passenger cars hopes to update its ID. model range of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) every 12 weeks.

‘Volkswagen combines the best of two worlds – safe, appealing hardware and intelligent software,’ said Klaus Zellmer, member of the VW brand board of management for sales, marketing and after-sales. ‘We will exploit the potential of this fusion more than ever before through continuous over-the-air updates.’

Meanwhile, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) recently confirmed it would roll out Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant to over 200,000 existing owners via an OTA update. ‘The seamless integration of Amazon Alexa with our Pivi Pro infotainment system gives customers simple, intuitive voice control of regularly-used features, making the driving experience even more enjoyable,’ said Alex Heslop, director of electrical and electronic engineering at JLR. ‘The fact we can also offer this new feature to existing customers proves the value of our software over-the-air-updates.’

In October, Volvo’s offshoot Polestar unveiled its P1.7, update which was mapped out to improve performance. It sported an in-car range-assistant app for improving efficiency, an eco-climate mode that allows the driver to reduce power demand, and battery-preconditioning improvements. ‘The connected nature of Polestar 2 means we can continue developing new features and improving existing attributes on a continual basis,’ said Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath. ‘Since our first update late in 2020, we have released several upgrades that have improved range, efficiency, connectivity and the driving experience.’

In September last year, Renault explained its take on firmware over-the-air (FOTA). Firmware is a digital package that is stored on a hardware device to ensure it runs properly, whereas software describes a program or piece of data with which the user interacts, but both can be updated OTA. Edouard Valenciennes, FOTA project manager at Renault explained that ‘the new technology means 85% to 90% of vehicles will have up-to-date software, compared to the previous levels of 60%, at best, through our dealerships.’

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