Fleetowner 38590 Ota Hero 2

Bringing the future closer

July 23, 2019
Over-the-air updates could change transportation.

Editor’s note: Coming Wednesday - a look at the safety precautions companies are taking to keep over-the-air updates safe and secure.

Over-the-air (OTA) programming for commercial vehicles is a sit-down and strap-in topic. It is not only that it will eventually change transportation forever, or that it is an amazing and complex set of technologies to orchestrate. OTA programming also brings with it a list of challenges that will have to be addressed, now and going forward.  

OTA programming is not a born-yesterday technology.  Instead, it is a logical next step along a long path of innovation centered around wireless communications. From satellite-based to cellular vehicle tracking, remote system and driver performance monitoring, cargo monitoring and remote equipment diagnostics, the industry now has years of experience utilizing various wireless technologies to draw upon. 

Besides the potential safety benefits of OTA programming, the value proposition is primarily all about improving efficiency and productivity by reducing the need to bring equipment into the shop. For example, to update governed road speed the conventional way might take up to two months, when you count scheduling. And the industry average for actual downtime to do this is about 2.3 days total. Using OTA, it takes about five minutes.  

There are concerns regarding cybersecurity and other future implications, but in the near term, the emerging technology appears able to offer fleets tremendous value. Wide-scale adoption of OTA programming for commercial vehicles will be more evolutionary than revolutionary, which provides time for address the related issues along the way.   

Only certain of the latest engines are presently able to take advantage of OTA programming. For Volvo Trucks North America, Navistar, and Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), for instance, that means 2018 and later models.  It will simply take time before older trucks are gradually traded out for new models that are equipped with the necessary telematics and sensor technology to use OTA programming. 

So far, OTA programming is also shaping up to be a subscription-based service. This means not every fleet and owner-operator may elect to use it because of factors such as subscription costs, the nature of their operation or simply their ability to quantify the potential benefits and realize them.  

“I think for the foreseeable future, at least while trucks are still human-operated, OTA updates will mostly be a luxury item for fleets who buy into the benefits,” Dave Covington, chief technology officer for Noregon, told Fleet Owner.   

Those benefits have been steadily accumulating for the past several months and more are on the way, making the case for OTR programming increasing compelling.  

Volvo Trucks North America introduced its Parameter Plus OTA subscription package, which allows for up to 50 annual parameter updates per covered vehicle. It is a supplement to Volvo’s Remote Programming offering, which also includes other uptime-focused services.  

“We have our own factory-installed, telematics gateway on OTA-capable trucks,” explained Ash Makki, VTNA product marketing manager, in a Fleet Owner interview. “Through that, we can make software updates to improve efficiency and performance based on data we have collected and analyzed — much like what happens with cell phones.” 

Makki added: “We can also now make certain parameter updates at a customer’s request. Parameter updates enable owners to switch between operating modes for maximizing truck performance, fuel efficiency and configuring maximum road speeds.”  

A fleet could also choose to switch programming on a transmission or engine to accommodate application changes. Additionally, fleets can change idle shutdown time or initiate a regeneration cycle for diesel particulate filters, Makki said. 

Volvo presently offers OTA programming free of charge for two years to customers acquiring qualifying equipment.  After that, it is available on a subscription basis. 

A Parameter Plus package for qualifying Mack Trucks is also available through the Mack GuardDog Connect telematics gateway.  

Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) introduced its Detroit Connect Remote Updates in 2018, available on new Freightliner Cascadia models equipped with OTA-capable Detroit engines.  The company has since made remote parameter updates a part of the Detroit Connect subscription — standard on select Cascadias for the first five years.  

“As we started down this OTA programming path, we were very mindful of the ecosystem in which our trucks operate, explained Jason Krajewski, director of connectivity for DTNA. “We gave a lot of thought to the people who will interact with this new technology – drivers, fleet managers, technicians, dealers.  As a result, we decided to allow our customers to update their own equipment themselves.”  

While DTNA started with only a limited number of parameters that could be changed remotely, fleets are taking on more responsibility – and getting creative. 

“For instance, through other telematics data, one of our customers could see that the radar system on a particular truck needed to be aligned,” he said. “The driver, however, took the truck out anyway, so the fleet used the OTR programming capability to slow the truck down to a very low top speed to force the driver to come into the shop and fix the safety system.” 

According to Navistar, all new International LT and RH Series models built after June and equipped with an International A26 engine will include the capability to make over-the-air updates.  

“Using these new OTA tools will help our customers achieve greater uptime and lower their total cost of ownership,” said Michael Cancelliere, president of the company’s truck operations.  

The service from Navistar will initially be offered at no charge as part of a package of related services. Then it will become subscription based.

About the Author

Fleet Owner Staff

Our Editorial Team

Kevin Jones, Editorial Director, Commercial Vehicle Group

Cristina Commendatore, Executive Editor

Scott Achelpohl, Managing Editor 

Josh Fisher, Senior Editor

Catharine Conway, Digital Editor

Eric Van Egeren, Art Director

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