A global chip shortage, prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, is continuing to affect automakers around the world. As a result, many OEMs have had to delay new models and slow down production. However, there are positives to this challenge as it could force the industry to innovate in new ways.

Software could be one such solution and this isn’t the first time manufacturers have looked to developers to solve a hardware problem. In 2014, Tesla announced a recall of 29,000 of its charging adapters over fire concerns. This wasn’t a recall in the traditional sense, though, and Tesla was able to fix a problem with the charger’s electrical resistance heating by rolling out an over-the-air (OTA) update to its vehicles.

Can an update solve a chip shortage?

Software-defined vehicle manufacturers are well placed to look for ways to solve the current chip shortage and, once again, Tesla is leading the charge. It’s already exploring alternative chips and is rewriting its vehicle software to support that.

“We were able to substitute alternative chips, and then write the firmware in a matter of weeks,” Musk said during an earnings call in July last year. “It’s not just a matter of swapping out a chip; you also have to rewrite the software.”

A new way of delivering OTA updates

Tesla’s software mindset allows it to weather the challenges facing the automotive industry but all OEMs have the chance to learn from this. The level of technology in a car requires millions of lines of code and each OTA update needs additional storage on top of this. Reducing the memory needed for each update could reduce the pain of the current chip crisis for automakers.

This can be achieved with Line-of-Code OTA updates.

Legacy update solutions such as full-image updates or binary diff updates require creating dual partitions in the endpoint memory while also doubling the storage available. Using these methods, manufacturers update the software to the second partition so that, if it fails, it can revert to the previous version that’s still stored on the chipset.

This not only requires double the amount of NAND chip memory to accommodate these updates but if an update fails, it could have a knock-on effect across other ECUs in a vehicle that may need to roll back two or three versions – something that’s not possible using full-image or binary updates.

Line-of-Code updates, however, don’t require this extra memory to ensure that the ECU is both updatable and fully fail-safe. Using this technology could ease some of the problems OEMs are facing from the current chip shortage – by requiring fewer flash memory banks while still balancing the need for safety and user experience.

This method writes the fully executable update file to the next free space on the flash memory without deleting previous versions. Not only does this method take up much less space than legacy updates but it means there’s zero downtime for the user and, should an update fail, it’s easy to revert back to a previous version.

It’s clear that software has the chance to solve hardware problems but challenges such as the current chip shortage present new opportunities for innovation. Vehicle Software Intelligence and Line-of-Code updates may help ease the pain of a short-term issue but can also support OEMs in revenue generation, help them create an improved user experience, reduce costs, and offer full visibility into the co-dependencies present in a modern vehicle.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Line-of-Code updates, take a look at our cost consideration guide for OTA updates.