Automakers Rely on Custom USB Drives for Fixes and Updates
Prior to 1990, most cars on the road relied on a mechanical device called a carburetor to deliver fuel to the engine. Today, every modern car uses one or more onboard computers to precisely control the amount of fuel needed to run the engine. The advantage of these computer-controlled systems is that they offer greater fuel economy, cleaner emissions, and even increased power to drivers.
So what does all of this have to do with USB drives? I’m glad you asked. Cars today are becoming increasingly reliant on software as the number of onboard computers increases. A brand-new vehicle may have one computer to control the engine, another to handle safety systems such as traction control and stability control, and another to handle navigation services and in-car entertainment.
As it turns out, updating the software on a vehicle is more difficult than updating the software on your home computer. However, automakers have found a creative solution for keeping these systems up to date using custom USB flash drives.
For example, the high-end British car manufacturer McLaren has delayed the launch of its latest exotic car in the US due to electrical and software problems. The company’s latest creation, the MP4-12C, boasts a top speed of more than 200 miles per hour and a price tag of around $220,000 dollars.
For the 100 customers who have already taken delivery of the MP4-12C in Europe, McLaren recommends they bring their cars in to the dealer for service. There, a technician can load the updated software to the car using a USB flash drive.
Automakers love USB drives for their portability and versatility. It allows them to install updates and patches on-location. These vehicles already feature integrated USB ports for connecting MP3 players and smart phones to the car’s on-board entertainment system.
In a similar scenario, the Ford Motor Company has recently announced a major update to its MyFord Touch system. This is a system available in many newer Ford vehicles that allows drivers to manage the radio, climate control, navigation, and other vehicle settings through a touch screen built into the dash.
Since its debut, the MyFord Touch system has been very polarizing. While some users love it, the system has received a lot of bad press from industry critics and the automotive press.
The new version will be faster and includes many fixes and improvements to the user interface. Ford will be sending out custom USB drives with the updated software to over 300,000 vehicle owners nationwide starting in early 2012.
Ford owners will be able to connect the flash drive to a port in their vehicle to install the upgraded MyFord Touch software.
Other automakers including Volkswagen and BMW also use USB drives for updating vehicle systems as well. With cars becoming more heavily dependent on software with each passing year, it is likely that more and more drivers will be relying not on gas prices, but on USB drives, to keep them on the road.