Market watchers like Machina Research already rank BMW as the top vendor in terms of connectivity. Now the Bavarian carmaker goes one step further and enables the navigation system embedded (Professional version) in BMW's Connected Drive concept to automatically keep street maps current. While most navigation system vendors offer an update once or twice a year, BMW downloads the data as often as required, and entirely without the driver being involved. Towards this end, a backend server establishes a data connection through the 3G or 4G modem installed in the vehicle.
The map download is not the only automatic data update for information material stored in the navigation system; a head unit app available later this year will poll the fuel price from the filling stations in the surrounding area. The Real-Time Traffic Information (RTTI) system already continuously updates traffic data relevant for the route calculation. The automatic map download however involves the hitherto largest amounts of data. For this reason, it is not unlikely that this feature could be a precursor to automatic updates of executable on-board software in the future.
The motivation for such automated software updates is obvious: If a carmaker realises that a piece of software installed in vehicles out in the field might contain a bug, and perhaps a safety-relevant bug, today a costly call-back action is unavoidable (remember the Toyota case). The likelihood of such a bug is increasing with the rising amount of software installed in a vehicle. Such callback actions can be avoided if the software can be fixed online. In smartphones this is already done today, but in cars it is more complex for obvious reasons. We know that BMW and most likely other carmakers are working on such solutions, but presently they don't communicate this in the public. The experiences and insights gained from the automated map updates can be fed into more demanding software update developments.