As cars become more sophisticated, computer software updates for vehicles become extremely important. Automobile software helps a vehicle run more efficiently, provides entertainment options for passengers and creates interactive customer experiences. Wireless and Wi-Fi networks are everywhere, and one automaker is taking advantage of ubiquitous technology to manage its software updates.
Ford begins selling new cars with automatic software updates in late 2015, and all new cars will have this cloud-based system in place by the end of 2016. The automaker has partnered with Microsoft Azure to create the Ford Service Delivery Network, a service that combines cloud computing, data analytics and automobile software updates.
The system works by seamlessly downloading computer files to a vehicle whenever the car gets within range of a Wi-Fi network. Customer-sensitive data from the vehicle, such as a customer's name, vehicle mileage and efficiency information, get sent over a private cloud computing network built by Ford's IT personnel. Entertainment options and automobile software updates get downloaded to the car from public, cloud-based networks run by Microsoft Azure. The hybrid system is cost-effective, runs in the background and maintains customer privacy.
Ford can even retrofit the technology on vehicles as old as 10 years. Many software-update systems use USB sticks that customers get from dealers or download from home computers. This system can be cumbersome, especially when drivers forget to perform the updates on their own. Convenient, automatic updates from Wi-Fi connections occur when the vehicle's computer recognizes updates are available. The manufacturer, and not the driver, becomes responsible for downloading automobile software. Most newer vehicles already have wireless technology in place for GPS systems, so automakers can take this connectivity one step further.
Ford and Microsoft already had a working relationship in place with on-board computer software systems. The partnership for cloud-based automobile software updates seemed like a natural fit for Microsoft's engineers and Ford's push for better in-car technology. The automaker chose Microsoft over other cloud computing applications from Google, IBM and Amazon Web Services.
The move makes vehicle maintenance easier in some respects, yet more difficult in others. As cars become more advanced with increasingly complex computer systems, automobile mechanics must become more well-versed in mechatronics. The concept of mechatronics includes the moving parts of a vehicle and how they relate to electrical, computer and software systems. Automobile manufacturers have gotten used to hiring engineers with advanced to degrees to work on cars in the factory. Yet, this type of skilled labor has not trickled down to auto technicians at dealers and repair shops. Even though Ford has taken the initiative by having automatic software updates, this could create repair dilemmas in the future with technicians who are not trained to fix integrated systems.
Other manufacturers are likely to follow Ford's lead with respect to automobile software updates using cloud computing. The infrastructure is already in place with Wi-Fi networks available at restaurants, public libraries and in homes. It is only a matter of time before cars themselves become entertainment and information hubs for American families.
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