Modern cars have more lines of code than the Space Shuttle and can boast wireless connectivity that’s on par with the latest smartphones. But they’re not quite computers on wheels since even new cars lag older computers in their ability to be updated and kept secure from hacking.
Near-instant obsolescence and cyber security are two major pain points for auto makers (and consumers). New vehicles are also designed years in advance, so your brand-new 2017 car is about as contemporary tech-wise as an iPhone 5s or Moto X smartphone.
Auto makers and suppliers are pouring R&D dollars into solving these problems. But other than Tesla, no company has yet to deploy regular over-the-air updates. And every car company, including Tesla, is a potential moving target of hackers.
That’s why, among the sensory overload that is CES, a simple demo of Bosch’s Central Gateway technology caught my attention. It’s a central electronic control module that transfers data between a car’s “domain” controllers for subsystems such as infotainment or powertrain. The concept isn’t new; several other automotive suppliers provide a similar solution and the latest vehicles already use a central control unit architecture. But whereas the central controllers in many cars are like a dial-up modem, the Bosch Central Gateway is more akin to using the quickest and most secure wireless routers.
Speed and Security Is Essential
Speed and security is essential as electronics and connectivity in cars increases exponentially to support cloud-based infotainment and sophisticated driver assist systems. “We know that the amount of data content in cars is going to increase substantially,” Tim Frasier, regional president of automotive electronics for Bosch, told me at CES.
And increasingly, content as well as updates must be streamed to cars from the cloud. “In fact, you can think of the cloud as actually being part of the vehicle architecture,” Frasier added.
What makes Bosch’s Central Gateway unique is that it not only allows content and updates to be wirelessly and securely beamed into cars, but also allows for refreshes of firmware to make a vehicle even more future-proof. In Bosch’s booth at CES, a subsidiary of the company called ETAS showed a firmware over-the-air update technology that’s a crucial component of the Central Gateway technology.
Safe and reliable OTA software and firmware updates will be crucial going forward, “as opposed to trying to ratchet features into an existing architecture,” Frasier said.
Some auto makers, he added, “are already designing cars with the Center Gateway in the beginning” of the development cycle, and this could help solve the software and firmware updating and security issues many automakers now face. And help cars act more like computers.