BMW goes OTA

BMW goes OTA

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

Tesla has had it for a long time, conventional car manufacturers are rather hesitant about it: software updates via the air interface (OTA). BMW has now taken a cautious first step with the launch of the new version of its 1 series.

With the Remote Software Upgrade, BMW for the first time offers its customers the opportunity to continuously update their vehicle software and download new features. The OTA capability is not only available for the 1 Series, but also for all BMW vehicles equipped with the Operating System 7.0 – including the latest BMW sedans. By the way, according to BMW’s language regime, “Operating System” does not mean the same thing as is common in the software industry, i.e. the basic system software for computers. Rather, BMW understands this term to mean a collection of functions, display contents and operating concepts for its cars.

In any case, all BMW vehicles equipped with the Operating System 7.0 can now update their software online without having to visit a garage. The central element for these updates is the Intelligent Personal Assistant, part of BMW’s user interface. BMW wants to enable vehicle-specific updates, including functional enhancements of driver assistance systems.

Are bug fixes also part of the range of functions? BMW’s answer to this question is not clear, but is probably “yes”. “Essentially, we want to achieve three customer benefits with Remote Software Upgrade”, a BMW spokesperson explained. “We want to continuously improve the quality and security of the vehicles, we want to improve and expand the vehicle functions, and in the future we also want to give customers the opportunity to book services and functions at a later date.” In future, homologation-relevant software content can also be updated via the air interface; this content is homologated for the respective vehicle type before it is made available, explains the company.

The updates can be carried out via the SIM card installed in the vehicle and the mobile telecommunications network. Alternatively, users can also use their smartphone, on which a corresponding app must be installed. Then they can, for example, download the update to their smartphone at home and then transfer it to the vehicle. For the time being, it is not planned to support updates directly to the vehicle via WiFi hotspots.

Beyond the OTA capability, the new 1 series, which will be presented to the public in Munich at the end of June, contains a number of further electronic refinements. Among other things, the vehicle can be opened and closed using a smartphone-based “digital key”; the presence of the authenticated smartphone is also a condition for driving ability: if this option is activated, the engine can only be started for security reasons if the smartphone is in the designated storage area.

The Personal Digital Assistant integrated in the vehicle is a kind of adaptive artificial intelligence (BMW avoids using the term artificial intelligence in its customer communication), inspired by what users can do with their smartphones today. The assistant learns processes, preferred settings and habits and can place them in a relevant context. He answers questions about the vehicle (e.g. “is the oil level okay”), explains technologies and knows relevant Points of Interests. Following the customs of various online services such as Google or Amazon, the assistant is addressed and activated with “Hey BMW”, but one can also give it another name.

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