Help from the Cloud

Service and new software from the cloud: vehicle diagnostics will become part of mobile lifestyle

Breakdowns and problems will be made less daunting: this is what IAV’s “Remote Diagnostics” function promises to do. The driver will get help from the cloud when the vehicle reports a fault. And if it should need to seek a service shop, the necessary spare parts will have already been ordered. In the future, it will also be possible to carry out software updates and upgrades via the cloud. This will boost customer satisfaction, open up new business models and give the OEMs a direct channel to customers.

Most of the time, anyone needing roadside assistance today must be prepared for an exercise in patience. Possibly, a mechanic will need to come out to the scene of the breakdown, this often being followed by trip to the service garage, and in many cases the replacement parts required will have to be ordered too. “Before you know it, the whole day has gone, which is very annoying for the motorist”, says Kai Sieckmann, head of the Diagnostics department at IAV. “This is something we want to change. In the future, the vehicle will contact a back end where the situation is analyzed to find out whether there’s a quick  solution.”

This will be based on the “Diagnostic Cloud” that provides vehicle information everywhere and without further ado. It runs numerous “micro services” that support the vehicle user and customer service in the background. In some fault situations, it might be possible to limit top speed by a command from the cloud. Instead of waiting around doing nothing at the side of the road, the driver could continue his or her journey, albeit slowly. And if a visit to the service garage should be unavoidable, an assist function in the cloud would automatically arrange an appointment to suit the driver’s diary. The diagnostic information could, of course, also be used in the meantime to order the necessary spare parts.

Predictive maintenance

Problem prediction is even possible today and is, for example, already in use in plant engineering under the “predictive maintenance” heading. Here, software identifies suspicious patterns indicating an imminent failure and prompts a service. This approach can be applied to the automotive world: “Much information for this is already available in the vehicle today – we need to bring it together so as to provide a picture of the vehicle’s state and be able to arrange a visit to the service garage”, explains Dr. Alexander Roy, Senior Technical Consultant for Diagnostics at IAV. “That’s a typical big data task.”

But the computations behind all this need not necessarily take place on the control units in the vehicle. This job could also be done by an OEM’s computing center that receives the prepared data via the cloud. “This solution is scalable and can easily be extended by new functions”, Dr. Roy says. “The trend is clearly in this direction.”

Updates and upgrades via the cloud

Besides remotely diagnosing problems, OEMs could in the future import software updates and upgrades into vehicles from the cloud. “These remote updates and upgrades will be distributed ‘over the air’ and will be capable of configuring or enabling functions and apps”, Sieckmann says. “This will also give third-party providers a new and fantastic business environment for online
services.”

The technological requirements for remote diagnostics and an ‘over the air’ update are already given and, in some cases, now being used. “The real challenges, however, lie in making sure the update process is absolutely reliable and can be applied from SOP to the end of the vehicle’s life, which can be as long as 20 years or more”, Dr. Roy says. How can this be ensured compared with today’s development and support cycles?

Paradigm shift in many respects

New approaches are also called for when it comes to validating and rolling out new software modules. How can new functions be tested in advance in the light of a constantly growing variety and diversity of vehicle models and complexity? Does the entire system still work after the update? And how should they be rolled out? “In the worst-case scenario, all vehicles affected would be immobilized after a faulty update – far away from the next service point”, Sieckmann says. “To limit potential problems, a gradual roll-out would lend itself.”

A challenge of at least equal magnitude lies in providing long-term support for the software in vehicles. “Throughout the entire life cycle, the manufacturer must be in a position to respond to problems”, Sieckmann explains. “This poses many questions. How can new software be tested for relatively old vehicles? Will the OEM be able to reach all of the vehicles?” This means updates and upgrades via the cloud will demand a paradigm shift in terms of technology, processes and infrastructure.

Direct channel to the customer

Connecting vehicles offers major benefits: “Manufacturers can boost customer satisfaction and establish new business models”, Dr. Roy says. “They can also open up a direct channel to their customers. Remote Diagnostics provides a way of promoting special offers, or of reminding a vehicle owner of forthcoming service inspections.”

IAV is currently focusing much attention on this highly topical subject. The “Cloud Car” was on display at CES in Las Vegas, demonstrating the “remote update” and “vehicle roadworthiness inspection pre-check” as example applications. Using an app, the driver can check the condition of key components before setting off and, if necessary, take action so that everything runs smoothly in a later inspection and vehicle roadworthiness test.