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OTA (Over the Air)

Let’s talk techno | ACTIA’s OTA revolution

Vehicles are computers on wheels with software that controls essential functions. With millions of lines of code, the challenge is to securely keep the system up to date and install new features. OTA (Over-The-Air) technology allows ACTIA to provide its customers with solutions to perform remote vehicle updates and maintenance, giving benefits in terms of economy, security and comfort.
Let’s take a closer look at this technology which is about to shake up automotive economic models.

ACTIA and OTA (Over-The-Air)

“With OTA, our priority is to best serve our long-time bus, coach and specialised machinery customers, equipped with ACTIA on-board technology.  This means providing all of the technological components to support a swift time-to-market for vehicles, while achieving economies of scale through remote maintenance and repair.” 

Says David ELIZALDE, ACTIA group innovation director.

What is OTA (Over-the-Air)?

Over-The-Air technology is a process for distributing new software and configuration parameters to a vehicle from a computer.

OTA technology was initially used in the telephone sector, and is being opened up to connected objects, and vehicles in particular.

What is its purpose?

OTA is a communications technology that allows distribution and installation of new software or system (firmware) versions, as well as configuration parameters or new data in mobile equipment, including vehicles.

This means that, in addition to keeping the vehicles concerned up to the latest digital standards, this operation can provide access to new features.

What are the components of an OTA system?

  • The following components are required to implement OTA technology:
  • – A backend system for sending requests (computer server);
  • – A communication or telematics gateway on-board the vehicle, fitted with a SIM card, which can process requests in a format that can be understood by the system;
  • – A communication network to carry the request;
  • – A communication network in the vehicle, previously the CAN bus, which is able to distribute information received by the gateway to all of the on-board electronic systems.

How does it work?

The communication gateway: the main access to the vehicle

  • -The on-board communication gateway, which incorporates a SIM card, connects to the backend system via the cloud.
  • -This communication gateway is also connected to the vehicle’s internal communication network (normally the CAN bus), giving access to all of the vehicle’s on-board ECUs.
  • -The OTA process starts on a backend server, hosted on a cloud platform: the vehicle fleet operator then defines the software version to be transmitted to the vehicles, the date and time of the operation, the selection of models in the fleet to be addressed, the vehicle’s on-board systems that are to be updated, etc.
  • -The computer files are then sent from the remote server to the vehicle over the telecommunications networks. The vehicle’s on-board telematics gateway receives the information and transmits it to the on-board systems that are to be updated. The information can also be stored on one of the vehicle’s on-board ECUs (e.g. communication gateway) for subsequent distribution to the on-board systems that are to be updated.

Configuration of the OTA (Over-the-Air) update

  • Programming of the OTA update can be completely customised according to:
  • – the time of the update;
  • – the vehicles concerned ;
  • – the ECUs that require an update, etc.

There are 2 possible types of update:

  • Update of low-level software: concerns firmware functions: FOTA;
  • Update of applications and interfaces: concerns software functions for: SOTA (Software OTA).

OTA is behind a new automotive economic model

Regular security updates to on-board firmware and software are absolutely essential. Over-the-Air updates mean there is no longer any need to take the vehicles to the garage.

The introduction of OTA in vehicles has been accelerated by three factors:

– the cost of vehicle recalls;
– the advent of electric vehicles, particularly disruption by Tesla’s economic model: a new on-board electronic architecture (software-controlled vehicle) and no further need for a global network of garages
– more widespread vehicle connectivity.

The example of TESLA

TESLA, a pioneer in the field, only uses FOTA (Firmware Over-The-Air) technology to update the features of its vehicles that are already in service. This technology is therefore behind a new economic model for manufacturers, with no after-sales networks required.

Why OTA (Over-the-Air) vehicle updates have become essential

Ten years ago, the first wireless updates mainly applied to information and entertainment features or non-sensitive security systems, such as maps or audio system modifications. Today, software updates to security systems or features directly related to driving or to the vehicle are vital.

Economic benefits

– The vehicle no longer needs to be taken to a garage
When a car manufacturer detects a problem, or has to introduce new features in a vehicle, OTA updates can be carried out behind the scenes, right where the vehicle is parked, without the owner having to worry about it. This is a significant improvement for vehicle security, as unfortunately it is not uncommon for some customers to ignore or forget about crucial recall operations.

– Maintenance and repair savings
Over-the-Air updates allow these issues to be eliminated, and maintenance and repair costs to be significantly alleviated.

Boosting vehicle performance

OTA updatesalso allow improvements and modifications to be made to a vehicle, such as:

  • – incorporating new features;
  • – adapting the gearbox;
  • – optimising vehicle power and efficiency;
  • – introducing driver-assistance features; etc.

System security first and foremost

The trend towards software-controlled vehicle architecture and on-request paid-for features means that short-term, mass or targeted software updates and patches are becoming increasingly important. Inside the vehicle, this concerns electronic control units (ECUs) including information and entertainment systems.

  • Updates to control units:
  • – mainly plug security holes
  • – improve performance,
  • – update the information and entertainment system.

OTA therefore opens up various possibilities for vehicle operation.

ACTIA’s know-how regarding the OTA (Over the Air) process

For more than 10 years, ACTIA has been an electronic equipment manufacturer that is renowned for designing and manufacturing vehicle on-board connectivity systems. This expertise has been developed by two global-scale R&D centres, one in Sweden and the other in Toulouse.

Building on this know-how, ACTIA is also positioning itself throughout the connected vehicle value chain, having developed a backend digital platform for remote management of connected vehicles.

TGU-R: the ACTIA Gateway

ACTIA develops and manufactures a comprehensive range of on-board ECUs dedicated to vehicle connectivity.

The ACTIA TGU-R unit, for example, is a generic telematics gateway developed and manufactured by ACTIA. It is the link between the vehicle and mobile internet, and is equipped with all of the latest-generation mobile communication capabilities (LTE, WI-FI, Bluetooth, GNSS).

The TGU-R unit is adapted to suit lorry, bus, coach and special vehicle connectivity needs. It is built into original equipment or retrofitted. ACTIA has produced several million telematics units in recent years.

D2HUB: ACTIA’s data factory

D2HUB is the name of the backend platform developed by ACTIA allowing control of OTA operations to vehicles. The platform is already used by many vehicle manufacturers and transport operators.

Ensuring data security

ACTIA makes data and information system security a priority. How?

  • The Group plays an active part in work on automotive cybersecurity regulations and standards.
    It is therefore able to incorporate the requirements of these texts into the company’s processes and products.
  • ACTIA assists project teams and customers in order to take all aspects of cybersecurity into account. For example, the TGU-R telematics unit is delivered with its own cybersecurity manual. This enables manufacturers to develop their applications completely autonomously.

OTA (Over-the-Air) and ACTIA’s diagnostics solutions

ACTIA is a long-standing player in vehicle electronic diagnostics.

With technological developments to these vehicles, and the advent of connected vehicles, the automobile diagnostics and repair profession is thoroughly transformed, and OTA is a new resource for auto-mechanics and after-sales networks.

ACTIA’s special position in the connected vehicle and automobile diagnostics markets gives it a unique advantage for making sense of the OTA revolution in automobile maintenance and repair.

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