LAS VEGAS — Automobiles today just aren’t steel, glass and rubber. They also are 4-wheeled computers, with new vehicles containing millions of lines of software code — controlling everything from navigation systems to the windshield wipers.
And what comes with that much software code?
Most certainly, bugs.
And get ready to see more of them as the connected cars of today attempt to get all of the interconnected systems working together in harmony. Just last week, Volkswagen issued a recall on 25,000 Jettas in the U.S. due to a software issue that inadvertently switched off low beam headlights when high beams are activated.
“Statistics show that more than 50 percent of recalls of cars … are because of bugs in the software, not because of some mechanical issue,” said Oren Betzaleli, executive vice president of products and marketing at Red Bend Software. “If you think about it more into the future, it will be more than that.” Autonomous driving, assisted-driving systems and navigation systems in the vehicle will all be powered by computers, creating a complex web of potential issues.
Betzaleli was one of the panelists who spoke today at the AT&T Developer Summit in Las Vegas, sharing insights about the importance of “over-the-air” software updates for automobiles.
After all, you won’t want to take your car into the dealer each time there’s a line of code that needs fixed in your Audi or Acura. That’s why Betzaleli thinks the idea of software updates over-the-air are becoming mandatory in today’s world of connected cars. While basically non-existent in today’s vehicles, Betzaleli said that by 2017 or 2018 over-the-air software updates to automobiles will hit a tipping point.
Bryan Trussel, the CEO of Seattle-based location-sharing app Glympse, agreed that we’ll see more updates. But Trussel doesn’t think updating a car will ever become quite as easy as, say, updating your smartphone.
“The gap will always be there at some level. People go overboard on both sides,” said Trussel, who was also a panelist at today’s session. “Some people say: ‘Hey, just put the iPhone UI on my car and then I am set.’ And that just will never happen. There are just too many legal and liability and safety concerns with instant apps from anybody showing up on your car. It just won’t happen. Apple knows this. Google knows this.”
However, Trussel said that the time to update software in a car is shrinking and is far better than it used to be — when it could take five years or more to get anything approved. Now, some apps can be updated in a matter of weeks.
“You also are not talking about a phone,” noted Emmett Long, the of head of technology cloud services at Ericsson. “You probably flew here. Would you be OK with Boeing updating your airplane five minutes before takeoff? You might, you might not. But it is a different paradigm altogether.”
Long noted that 34,000 people die every year in the U.S. in automobile accidents, and they are working to get that number to zero. “It’s not just throwing software at it,” said Long.
Trussel also noted that it depends on the update. Road and traffic data can be updated rather seamlessly, but an infrastructure fix of optimizing brakes and headlights may take “quite a bit of testing.”
Editor’s note: GeekWire is a media partner of the AT&T Developer Summit & Hackathon.