I sat with my hands on the wheel in the middle of a mini green race track, watching the feed from the tiny car I was driving.
Next to me, a developer was trying to modify code so the cityscape background on my screen turned into a desert landscape. A white flash appeared for a few seconds. He succeeded. And I didn’t need to turn the car off or pull over — something carmakers hope they can replicate in the real world.
Smartphone users know the drill. When there’s a new software update, they’re notified and either schedule an overnight update or manually install the new software and stare at the progress bar as the phone restarts. That’s basically how it works with cars now, too. But the auto industry’s next move is to update the car’s software as you drive.
“We’ve become the new mechanics.”
JFrog builds software for Tesla, Uber, Audi, and BMW and others. At its developer operations conference in San Francisco this week, it pushed the idea of on-the-go software updates or at least shorter shutdowns. During his keynote address, JFrog VP of business development Kit Merker talked about how the Internet of Things and specifically connected autos are more and more reliant on software to perform properly.
“We’ve become the new mechanics,” he said to the room of developers at a downtown hotel ballroom. “Software is behind the wheel.”
As cars become more autonomous, and therefore more reliant on software, companies need to get updates out more quickly, both for critical fixes involving the battery and security, and for not-so critical problems (like downloading new games).
JFrog envisions updates taking only seconds or a few minutes, compared to the current standard of 45 minutes to eight hours.
Tesla is the pioneer of over-the-air updates — but while its cars are off. Since 2012, hundreds of OTA updates have been sent out by the company to adjust things like speed limit settings, acceleration, battery issues, and even braking distance. Oh, also for adding features including, yes, fart mode.
Good point. We will add that to all cars in one of the upcoming software releases.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 19, 2017
Most car manufacturers are behind when it comes to over-the-air software updates. General Motors is just starting to roll out OTA updates and expects most of its cars to be connected by 2023. Toyota Priuses are known for expensive, cumbersome in-person check-ins at service centers to upgrade their software. Even tech-savvy Volkswagen is behind, with only some updates available remotely.
JFrog’s Merker knows most of the car industry is years behind Tesla, but as more connected cars come online, he anticipates a need for everything to be “faster and better” — software updates included.