Wirelessly Updating Auto Software Creates Dangerous Mindset 2023

Timeless story. The plodding turtle beats the arrogant hare. If you’re fast, you don’t need to focus. The 1985 undefeated Bears lost to the Dolphins, and Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump despite a late-October 14-point lead.

“The Tortoise And The Hare” is a fairy tale, but history is full of overconfident favorites who lose due to sophomoric certainty.

Technology leaders wirelessly reflash car software. Yes, new UN laws demand this phone-like “you have a new version to download” enabler on cars sold worldwide to fix cybersecurity vulnerabilities, but there are tortoises and hares in this race to mandatory certification.

Most automotive hares are creative technological startups that built their systems on cellular architecture and have been getting updates for years. Big lead. Much safer. Right?

Not always.

Recall—What Is It?

A worrying number of manufacturers, suppliers, and commentators have adopted the hare attitude in recent years. “Is ‘Recall’ Really The Right Word In The Era Of Auto Over-The-Air Updates?” asked Carolyn Fortuna of CleanTechnica.com. For pedants, the language is deceptive. The American Society for Quality defines “recall” as “the act of officially summoning someone or something back to its place of origin.”

NHTSA and other global regulatory agencies define a recall as “the remedy required when a manufacturer or NHTSA determines that a vehicle, equipment, car seat, or tire creates an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet minimum safety standards.” Thus, your family is driving a harmful product, and modern technology makes it easier to remove it.

Fortuna’s perplexity is shared. Elon Musk replied “Definitely” to a February tweet suggesting vocabulary to distinguish recalls from software upgrades.

“Recalling an over-the-air software update is anachronistic and wrong!” An automobile executive of a large telematics provider recently stated on social media that “Consumers only care about recalls when it affects the availability of the product.

My phone was upgraded overnight, which I saw this morning. Carmakers can too. Tesla has. I bet their consumers don’t notice their many software recalls. The dumper’s perceived excellence will make other automobiles and trucks arrive quickly or shrink.

The Enabler Is The Solution.

Nomenclature isn’t the solution.

After testing, releasing well-designed, reliable products is the best solution. Well-proven methods need tedious, tortoise-like engineering.

In this agile age, this doesn’t fit with the ever-changing market and the demand for speedy product upgrades. Chief Engineers should flush out technologies before releasing them to market. Outdated. Poorly aligned.

Ironically, software upgrades keep the firm solvent. In a July Decoder podcast, Mercedes-Benz CEO Ola Källenius said, “In the past, when you bought your car and drove off the lot, it was the peak technology of that product. Then it aged. Mercedes, like French wine, improves over time.

We may give you extra technology after the purchase, so you don’t achieve peak technology as you drive off the lot.” New features must be carefully created and deployed when ready. Instead of hiding bugs, the over-the-air enabler should lead to new features.

The catch: the carrot must beat safety to new sturdy technology.

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