Delphi Plans Tesla-Like Over-the-Air Software Updates for Other Cars

Delphi wants to create software that will allow older cars to get over-the-air updates.

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One of the most talked-about Tesla features is the company's ability to push over-the-air software updates to its cars, letting Tesla add new features or fix bugs while the cars sit in owners' driveways. Automotive supplier Delphi now hopes to give other cars that ability with new software that can be retrofitted to vehicles built as far back as 2010, according to Bloomberg. Delphi is also reportedly negotiating with automakers to have over-the-air update capability built into new models beginning around 2020.

Delphi plans to achieve this tech coup using several startups it bought over the past couple of years. It bought Movimento in January to access that company's over-the-air system, and bought telematics company Control-Tec in 2015 for data-analysis tech. Earlier this month, Delphi invested in Otonomo, a startup expected to provide expertise in anonymizing driver data and selling it to third parties.

Privacy will likely become a major issue if over-the-air updates ever go mainstream. Carmakers will have access to all of a car's data at all times, and be able to profit off it by selling it to other companies. Opening a car's internal systems to an outside network also removes one of the major protections against hacking, though that ship effectively sailed when automakers started adding extensive telematics systems and onboard Wi-Fi to their new cars.

The system may face physical issues, too. Carmakers may have to address dealer concerns, as well as those of customers. A technology that requires customers to bring their cars into the dealership less cuts into the revenue dealers make from servicing—a vital part of most dealers' business. (Tesla hasn't had to confront this issue because it uses company-owned service centers and showrooms instead of traditional franchised dealerships.)

While Tesla has definitely made the biggest strides, other automakers are experimenting with over-the-air updates. Certain Ford models can download updates for the automaker's Sync 3 infotainment system via Wi-Fi, and BMW, Daimler, and General Motors are all considering over-the-air capability for future cars, according to Bloomberg. Lucid Motors also plans to offer over-the-air software updates with its Air electric car, due in 2019.