FOTA: updates are in the air
Cars are becoming increasingly sophisticated, interactive, and connected, and they can now receive remote updates. Revolutionary technology that champions Renault’s aspiration to become increasingly tech-specific within the automotives landscape. Now, all you need is a simple touch on the multimedia touchscreen and you’re done! It’s not magic, it’s just four easy letters: FOTA. Edouard, FOTA project manager and FOTA specialist, breaks down the ins and outs behind the technology that started out in smartphones and is now becoming an increasingly essential feature in automotives.
30 September 2021
As cars become increasingly connected, they also become more agile and intuitive with each new generation. Like smartphones, the operating system that runs the car’s multimedia screen and instrument panel is equipped to receive regular updates. These include patches and improvements for the in-car entertainment system and sometimes even brand-new features. The Software Factory, an entity within Renault Group that specializes in software engineering, has been seriously considering this issue. At the beginning of 2020, it rolled out Renault's FOTA project (Firmware-Over-The-Air) whereby Renault Group vehicles can receive remote updates.
"FOTA technology enables on-board software to receive updates and patches."
Edouard, FOTA Project Manager
Greater peace of mind...
FOTA technology is available on numerous vehicles in the Renault line-up (Twingo, Clio, ZOE, Captur, Mégane...) via the Renault EASY-LINK multimedia system and makes it easier to improve the on-board operating system and install patches. It also helps to keep the vehicle's safety at the highest possible level. But that’s not all! With everything done remotely, car owners are no longer required to take their car into a dealership. This saves everyone a lot of time and gives car owners greater peace of mind. For car manufacturers, it means more vehicles will receive updates than previously when cars had to be seen by a technician. According to Edouard, “the new technology means 85% to 90% of vehicles will have up-to-date software, compared to the previous levels of 60%, at best, through our dealerships.”
FOTA updates are based on the Renault EASY-LINK multimedia system, which is already available on many vehicles in the Renault range
Another advantage: the technology is extremely discrete; in fact, in most cases, it is totally invisible! The reason being that FOTA is literally ‘over the air’, via the GSM telephone network. In concrete terms, cars automatically download updates and when they are ready to be activated, “a message is displayed on the multimedia screen when the driver turns off the vehicle's ignition. He only has to accept and the update can be done while he is no longer in the vehicle," explains Edouard. In essence, the driver has nothing to do aside from accepting the update, which will, in some cases, immobilize the vehicle for a few minutes.
Edouard adds that, “one of the main aspects to remote updates is safety. It is a communication channel that must be protected in order to avoid data hacking” or even against the vehicle being taken over. FOTA technology for firmware updates on Renault vehicles places great importance on vehicle owner privacy. It is fully compliant with EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). This means that, whatever happens, data collected by the car is always kept anonymous. Drivers are never required to provide authentication.
The different steps of an update via FOTA technology
How does FOTA work?
FOTA updates cover a large range uses within vehicles. In terms of multimedia, for example, they can provide new content and additional applications, or even improve the navigation interface by making it more user-friendly. As for car safety, they could help optimise ADAS and other driving-related features such as steering and braking management.
Sometime updates also serve to enhance the operating system with new features. This is the case with the Remote Charge status and scheduling service, which is already available on several vehicles in the Renault range (Twingo, ZOE, Captur and Mégane). The interface used to access the service, which helps locate available charging terminals in the vehicle’s vicinity, has been enhanced with optional notifications at the beginning and end of the charge cycle. Similarly, FOTA technology can also be used for features such as automatic searching of EV charging terminals on long journeys, MULTI-SENSE mode customization, adjusting the vehicle's light moods, telephone short cut settings, smartphone activated remote unlocking, and other new WiFi-enabled functions.
Number of updates performed in FOTA and vehicles concerned by this technology
A little more than a year has passed since it was first launched on Renault vehicles and FOTA technology has been a resounding success, with one million updates already processed on more than 700,000 vehicles.
The All-New Megane E-TECH Electric embodies a new stage in the possibilities offered by FOTA technology
Towards a ‘proactive’ car?
New European regulations will come into force in 2024. They will require manufacturers to make this latest technology reliable. “Renault’s strength is that we are already prepared for the new regulation,” Edward said.
Unveiled at IAA Mobility 2021, in Munich, the All-New Megane E-TECH Electric will see FOTA technology overcome another milestone with new additional capabilities for on-board upgrades. For example, the welcome sequence will have the ability to change in due course, with new lighting and sound effects. The OpenR screen and OpenR Link multimedia system will also receive regular updates to optimize the way they operate. Updates also cover system components from Google. For example, the Google Assistant will receive FOTA updates including the addition of new languages or the ability to apply filters on GPS search results. For instance, when searching for an electrical charging in the nearby vicinity, drivers can use voice-commands to narrow down results to display only quick charging terminals or terminals that accept specific payment methods of their choice.
Over the course of its life, the All-New Megane E-TECH Electric will also receive updates for new features, be it for the ADAS or life-on-board systems. One day, FOTA updates may even help improve battery life. What if the ultimate stage of FOTA technology development was the advent of proactive cars? Also known as ‘upgradable cars’, they could suggest new features or updates to drivers based on their preferences. This eventuality is already under consideration at Renault Engineering.