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A focus on OTA safety in a cyber-threat world

Companies are taking safety precautions to keep over-the-air updates safe and secure.

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part feature on how over-the-air programming could change transportation. Read part one here.

Safety is one topic which those working on OTA programming are addressing right up front. At Volvo, for example, safety measures include making sure that the vehicle is ready to receive a remote update and making sure that the update was requested by a person authorized to do so.   

“We never initiate an update until the customer tells us they are ready,” explained Makki. “Then we make sure the vehicle itself is parked with the brakes set and the cellular data connection open.  We also make sure the battery has at least 11.5 to 12 volts of power available before we begin. Updating is never just done on the fly.” 

Likewise, Krajewski said DTNA does a series of checks on the vehicle side and on the back end. 

“We want to make sure that trucks cannot be disabled in the field due to an OTA event. And we don’t want to allow things like remote idle shut down in an extremely hot area where it might not work when the driver really needs AC at idle,” he said.  

Noregon’s Covington said many safety concerns stem from cybersecurity threats.  

“As the capabilities and adoption of OTA continue to grow, telematics devices and other remotely accessible hardware on the vehicle become a threat vector,” he said. “Imagine the harmful scenarios if someone is able to trick a telematics device into thinking it is sending the vehicle an approved firmware update.” 

Covington credited SAE for placing a focus on verification capabilities and security for vehicle networks to help manufacturers and telematics providers prepare for emerging technologies. 

Noregon itself has skin in the cybersecurity game. The company develops connected vehicle solutions that utilize OTA capabilities to help vehicle owners operate in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. The Trip Vision Uptime product, for instance, was developed to provide users with real-time diagnostic insights, enabling users to perform over the air functions that directly influence vehicle uptime, such as forced regens, parameter adjustments, fault clearing and more. 

The proprietary hardware, called the ND2, is installed on the vehicle to give owners real-time access to critical functions and data points. Additionally, telematics and OE manufacturers leverage Noregon’s expertise to enhance their OTA capabilities and improve their products and offerings. 

DTNA’s system is an embedded system on the vehicle and not accessible to the public, he added. To further enhance security, it works with outside security suppliers doing things like hacking challenges. 

“There is a general global standard for security, but organizations must put their own security systems on top of that,” said Makki. “Volvo has a dedicated, global cyber security group. Our protocols are extremely strict. We feel very confident, very comfortable.  Data is valuable.  Protecting data is really about protecting the customer.” 

Because OTA programming is so new, there is little to no history to analyze when it comes to the resale market for OTA-capable vehicles.   

Research suggests that subsequent vehicle owners will be able to subscribe to OTA programming services, at least for as long as their onboard telematics systems can handle them.  That has the potential to make late-model, OTA-enabled trucks worth a premium.   

“We believe Volvo trucks equipped with OTA-enabling technologies should generally be more valuable at resale or trade-in time than vehicles without that capability,” Makki offered. “They have a 4G-capable telematics gateway now.  As time goes on, there will be limitations on certain models, that is the nature of the beast.  That means we will have to draw the line somewhere on backwards compatibility.” 

“When a vehicle is sold, there is often no way for the manufacturer to know it happened,” noted Joe Edmonds, project manager, connected services for Navistar. “As a result, we’ve worked to identify several different ways to monitor for transitions in ownership and ensure that second owners are offered the same information and choices that the original owners were.” 

At present, taking advantage of OTA-programming is strictly an opt-in proposition.  

“It is clear, in our opinion, that we will see more OTA activity over time because of the benefits,” said DTNA’s Krajewski. “OTA updates are not required, at least for now, and we view it as an opt-in function for the foreseeable future. There will be a time in the future though when the industry comes to an inflection point - a point at which performing [or not performing] updates will affect the ability of a given system to operate optimally.” 

The road ahead 

The development of autonomous technologies could spawn the need for OTA-related regulations.  

At the same time, “other issues may require that updates be completed, such as those that impact emissions controls, but that could still likely be done at the vehicle owner’s choice of over-the-air or in-the-shop, assuming it is completed by the mandated date,” said Noregon’s Covington.  

According to Krajewski, several states are already looking at possible additional uses for OTA technology, but there is no cohesive picture emerging yet.  

In Seattle, for example, there is currently discussion about using OTA technology to establish a “congestion-pricing” system that would charge regulated vehicles fluctuating tolls for entering various parts of the city during peak traffic hours.   

Looking into the future, OTA programming could prove to be a disrupter of the business-as-usual model for truck operators and for maintenance service providers.   

“Early adopters could benefit from the advantages OTA presents, including a decreased cost of ownership and improved uptime,” said Covington. “Older trucks will lack the technology to handle OTA programming, so fleets or owner-operators will be left out until they begin to replace vehicles. Fleets running a wide range of make and model years may wait until they can implement new OTA policies on a majority of vehicles, rather than keeping the current process for one set of vehicles while updating the rest.” 

OTA technology could even help ease that technician labor pinch for dealerships and other maintenance providers.  

“Being able to make software updates over the air can free up dealers to focus on uptime-critical repairs and getting trucks back on the road quickly,” noted Krajewski. “That way their service bays can be freed from trucks simply needing software updates. This is a good thing for dealers.” 

“Today, dealerships have capacity issues,” agreed Makki. “OTA could help free up service bays and allow dealerships to focus on bigger jobs.” 

Officials with companies under the Paccar brand declined to comment for this story. 

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