General Motors Follows Tesla’s Lead, Develops Remote Upgrade Functionality for Future Models

As any Tesla Model S electric car customer to name the top five features they love the most about their car, and you’ll likely find a list including the the car’s impressive performance, smooth handling and exceptional range in addition to Tesla’s ever-expanding network of free-to-use Supercharger rapid charging stations.

GM could soon be following Tesla in offering over-the-air updates for its cars.

GM could soon be following Tesla in offering over-the-air updates for its cars.

Aside from those everyday features, you’re also likely to find many drivers cite Tesla’s always-connected telematics system as one of their favourite features of owning a Tesla Model S. That’s because as well as allowing Tesla and its customers to remotely check on the state of a Model S’ battery pack and diagnose any problems without needing to visit a Tesla Service Centre, Tesla’s on-board telematics system is also used to upgrade a car’s operating system remotely, adding new features as and when they’re ready to be rolled out.

And it’s such a good idea that Detroit automaker General Motors is about to bring over-the-air software updates to its cars too.

As Automotive News (subscription required) details, General Motors is in the process of developing its own version of Tesla’s over-the-air update system designed to make it possible for the automaker to add new functionality to customers cars long after they’ve left the dealer lot.

It’s an attempt by GM to reconcile the traditional automotive design cycle against the rapidly-changing world of consumer electronics and computer technology, and should make it possible for GM to continue to make cars on a traditional six or eight-year automotive design cycle without fearing that a model’s on-board technology will become obsolete even before it reaches it mid-cycle refresh.

To do this, GM’s product development Chief Mark Reuss said during a press briefing on Wednesday that the company is developing a whole new electrical architecture for its in-car computer systems called “Global B,” that will move a lot of the onus away from in-car technology and to cloud-based computing systems.

It’s a move that mirrors one made gradually over the past decade in the world of desktop and mobile computing. Rather than rely exclusively on a computer’s on-board chipset, more and more hardware and software manufacturers have chosen to focus on ways to instead tweak user’s machines for energy efficiency and long battery life, moving a lot of heavy-lifting processing work to the cloud, where massively-powerful custom-built server farms crunch data at speeds currently impossible for a single consumer machine to do.

Tesla is the only automaker to currently offer over-the-air updates.

Tesla is the only automaker to currently offer over-the-air updates.

Apple’s Siri, Google Now, and Microsoft’s Cortana services are all examples of this in action. Recent advances in machine learning on powerful cloud-based computing systems has even made it possible for photo storage services like Flickr off full automatic image recognition on uploaded photographs.

For automakers, the lure of cloud-based computer systems and always-on Internet connections in cars not only means they can add new features to in-car entertainment systems and diagnose problems remotely, but start to treat cars as nodes in a much larger, more powerful computer network.

Imagine, for example, a future system where each car has a direct two-way connection to a dedicated, secure cloud-based computer system. Knowing where each car is in real time, automakers could work with local and national governments to ensure traffic flow is maximized at all times by directing specific drivers along the least congested routes at all times. In the world of autonomous or emit-autonomous driving, the cloud could become smarter still, directing cars automatically according to destination, time constraints, and passenger preference.

Sadly, Reuss did not give a timeline for the introduction of GM’s new telematics system in its cars, but did say it would happen ‘soon’.

Given that the Chevrolet Bolt EV is due in just over a year — and it came with a host of cloud-based features when it made its concept car debut in Detroit earlier this year — we’d say it’s likely the Bolt EV would be at least one such vehicle to benefit from the new system.

Without confirmation either way however, that’s just our educated prediction.

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