Ford Takes to the Skies

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New over-the-air software updates will keep vehicles up-to-date with the latest apps and features. (Photo: Ford)

New over-the-air software updates will keep vehicles up-to-date with the latest apps and features.

Ford has announced plans to introduce over-the-air (OTA) software updates to both Ford and Lincoln vehicles. This will ensure that all future cars and trucks are up-to-date with the latest features, apps and security patches.

“This is a significant step forward for us at Ford and for the industry, in the sense that it’s a bumper-to-bumper ability to update virtually all programmable modules within the vehicle,” explains Zoltan Racz, Chief Engineer Platform Software, Ford of Canada.

With OTA, a vehicle’s infotainment system, instrument cluster, driver assistance module, climate control module, powertrain control module and pretty much anything to do with cabin comfort as well as driving and safety functions—anything having to do with programmable electronics in the car—can be updated.

Software updates will be uploaded either through WiFi or cellular data, whichever the customer prefers. “We have a 4G modem in most of the vehicles,” Racz adds. “We announced 100% connectivity for all of North America a couple of years ago, and now that’s being rolled out.”

Convenience and safety

One of the governing principles of Ford’s OTA system is to minimize the out-of-service status of the vehicle. In other words, unlike a smartphone that’s unusable while the software is updating, Ford and Lincoln vehicles will be out-of-service for minimal periods of time.

“Most phases of an OTA update will happen in the background while you use the car and drive it,” Racz adds. “Activating the software will be something that happens in a short period of time, so the outage for the vehicle will be minimized.”

The user interface in each vehicle will allow the driver to configure when a planned update should take place. “We expect most updates to take very few minutes,” Racz says. “And if you don’t want updates, or if you would prefer to go to the dealer to have your vehicle updated, then that will be your choice.”

Fresh features

Much like a smartphone is kept up-to-date with the latest features and functions, Ford and Lincoln vehicles will benefit from the addition of what Racz calls fresh and current content. “We want to be able to roll out new features and capabilities, much like your PC or your smartphone, where you’re able to get new features through software updates.”

Living in the age of hacking, security updates will be part of the update package as well, ensuring that all computer systems are safe from intruders. The ability to update modules in order to plug any vulnerabilities may prove to be invaluable as hackers get more sophisticated.

Model rollout

Expect to see OTA rolling out later this year on some 2021 models. The first vehicle to benefit from the technology will be the Mach-E, followed by other 2021 vehicles shortly thereafter.

Eventually, Ford sees OTA available in all its vehicles, including trucks. Unfortunately, the technology can’t be retrofitted, which means older vehicles simply won’t be able to benefit from OTA.

As Racz puts it, “You can’t retrofit it into older vehicles because it comes with a new platform. It’s the aggregate of several computer modules, including a high speed communication network that can’t be retrofitted into an existing vehicle.”

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