Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

eSync Alliance: Standardizing Software Updates

by Roger Lanctot | May 03, 2021

As an American, I find myself gazing across the Atlantic with a mixture of awe, envy, and confusion at an automotive marketplace operating under a highly activist regulatory regime that is inscrutable in its operation but impressive in its output and results. While the U.S. continues to slaughter 100 citizens daily on its highways, even Europe’s worst roads see but a fraction of the U.S. fatality rate.

A new wave of regulations and standards are surging across that Atlantic Ocean like a tsunami guaranteed to transform vehicle designs, save lives, and reduce vehicle emissions - whether we like it or not. Most notable among recent announcements has been the UNECE’s adoption of rules governing and requiring over-the-air software updates and cybersecurity countermeasures in cars.

The United States has largely abdicated its role as a leader in setting automotive regulatory goals and policies intended to save lives and reduce vehicle emissions. This isn’t to say that the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Administration are not respected organizations – but they have not been leading the way – a condition that set in directly following the agencies’ seatbelt and airbag initiatives which preceded Reagan-era budget cuts.

Into the vacuum created by U.S. DOT staffing and budget reductions and an ongoing brain drain has stepped the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the European Commission, and, to some extent, Europe’s New Car Assessment Program. All three bodies have taken a leading role in guiding the automotive industry toward safer and cleaner cars. (Strategy Analytics tracks the roadmaps of these agencies for its auto industry clients.)

The good news is that the U.S. DOT continues to be an active participant in the decision-making process at least within the UNECE. But regulatory innovation emanates now from distant shores.

One of the most unusual new regulations from the UNECE is the requirement for software update management systems. The regulation’s introduction highlights the rising importance of software in modern automobiles and the complexity of the automotive industry’s supply chain.

The UN Regulation applies to vehicles permitting software updates of passenger cars, vans, trucks and buses, trailers, and agricultural vehicles. The Regulation text is available at:

The regulation highlights the nuances of updating automotive software and the infrastructure required – connectivity, on-board vehicle networks and related hardware for storage and processing, and off-board cloud resources. It also speaks to the multi-step process of updating automotive software which requires validating the current portfolio and version of software in the car, the status of the car and its wireless connection, and the ability to confirm receipt and installation of the update or a reversion to a default or pre-update condition.

Those steps are meticulously outlined by the UNECE as follows:

  • Recording the hardware and software versions relevant to a vehicle type;
  • Identifying software relevant for type approval;
  • Verifying that the software on a component is what it should be;
  • Identifying interdependencies, especially with regards to software updates;
  • Identifying vehicle targets and verifying their compatibility with an update;
  • Assessing if a software update affects the type approval or legally defined parameters (including adding or removing a function);
  • Assessing if an update affects safety or safe driving;
  • Informing vehicle owners of updates;
  • Documenting all the above.

As part of the new regulation, the UNECE says all of these steps will be audited by national technical services or homologation authorities. Car makers will need to demonstrate, prior to putting vehicles on the market, that they fulfill the following requirements:

  • Software Update Management System is in place and its application to vehicles on the road is available;
  • Protect SU delivery mechanism and ensure integrity and authenticity;
  • Software identification numbers must be protected;
  • Software identification number is readable from the vehicle;

For Over-The-Air software updates:

  • Restore function if update fails;
  • Execute update only if sufficient power;
  • Ensure safe execution;
  • Inform users about each update and about their completion;
  • Ensure vehicle is capable of conducting update;
  • Inform user when a mechanic is needed.

In essence, the UNECE has “thought of everything.” There is one issue, though, that has escaped the attention of the agency. There are no standards governing over-the-air software updates.

The sad reality is that automobiles are seething with complexity and the injection of a software update regulation is creating as many problems as it may be intended to solve. The challenge in implementing OTA technology lies in the fact that cars are characterized by multiple on-board networks (CAN, LIN, FlexRay, Ethernet, MOST), dozens of electronic control units, a half dozen or more operating systems, and multiple processors provided by dozens of hardware and software suppliers.

It is no small task to find a single OTA solution to “rule them all” and auto makers tend to leverage a combination of in-house and third party OTA solutions to do the trick. This approach, for the most part, gets the job done for a growing roster of car makers, but the industry is crying out for a standard to ease the burden of integration and supporting OTA across the entire on-board eco-system for the full life-cycle of the vehicle.

The good news is that the eSync Alliance has stepped in with precisely the kind of OTA agnostic standard intended to simplify the deployment of any OTA solution. The best news of all is that the eSync Alliance is now collaborating with the GenIVI Alliance to facilitate OTA deployment and to enable vehicle data gathering and management.

The eSync Alliance is an initiative established to standardize OTA updating and data gathering for the connected car through a global network of co-operating companies including major automotive suppliers Alps Alpine, Aptiv, Faurecia, Hella, Molex, ZF, and many more. Alliance members benefit from a simplified development environment, enabled by the standardization of architecture, functional behaviors and APIs. The organization says this makes deployment faster and easier, and provides end-to-end security for automotive OEMs and suppliers.

A Webinar discussing the details and implications of the eSync Alliance software update and data gathering standard will took place Tuesday, April 27th and all are welcome. For more details, please register to join this informational Webinar April 27th which will include representatives of the eSync Alliance, the GenIVI Alliance, Aptiv, ZF, and Red Hat.

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