Firmware vs Software - a Key Difference

littlD

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All,

With the recent technical bulletin ( 21- 2091 25 March 2021 ), I thought it would be good to try and clear up some confusion.

You may be wondering... why do I have to take my car into the dealership for this technical bulletin, I thought the MACH-E gets software updates over the air (OTA)?

The Mach-E does indeed support OTA updates for SOFTWARE today. The Verge has also shared this recently:
"The automaker communicated to the Verge once more that a wireless software update will be available “later this year” for Ford Mach-Es that have been affected by the problem. "

So, in the future, your Mach-E can have its firmware also updated via OTA.

But what's the difference between software and firmware?

For most EVs, "software" simply refers to the interface that interacts with the driver via the touch screen. This includes but is not limited to:
1. Navigation and Maps
2. UI/UX (User Interface / User Experience)
3. Voice commands
4. Battery range and charging display
5. Climate Control

"Firmware" refers to computer code that controls a specific physical module in the car. AFAIK, these are some examples in the Mach-E:
• Powertrain Control Module (PCM)
• Secondary on-board diagnostic control module (SOBDM)
• Battery energy control module (BECM)
• Secondary on-board diagnostic control module B (SOBDMB)
• Secondary on-board diagnostic control module C (SOBDMC)
• Anti-lock brake system (ABS)

Once Ford adds the ability to update firmware via OTA, you shouldn't ever have to stop by the dealership for these updates.

And yes, Tesla has supported Firmware updates at least since I got my Model 3 in 2018. They reprogrammed the Anti-lock braking via OTA after Consumer Reports discovered a problem within a few days after finding it.

To date, Porsche's Taycan only supports software updates, firmware has to be flashed by a dealer. I'm not sure about other manufacturers.

So... Ford will have another great feature in the near future to make your Mach-E experience even better!

And I hope this post explains the situation a little better.





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macchiaz-o

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All,

With the recent technical bulletin ( 21- 2091 25 March 2021 ), I thought it would be good to try and clear up some confusion.

You may be wondering... why do I have to take my car into the dealership for this technical bulletin, I thought the MACH-E gets software updates over the air (OTA)?

The Mach-E does indeed support OTA updates for SOFTWARE today. The Verge has also shared this recently:
"The automaker communicated to the Verge once more that a wireless software update will be available “later this year” for Ford Mach-Es that have been affected by the problem. "

So, in the future, your Mach-E can have its firmware also updated via OTA.

But what's the difference between software and firmware?

For most EVs, "software" simply refers to the interface that interacts with the driver via the touch screen. This includes but is not limited to:
1. Navigation and Maps
2. UI/UX (User Interface / User Experience)
3. Voice commands
4. Battery range and charging display
5. Climate Control

"Firmware" refers to computer code that controls a specific physical module in the car. AFAIK, these are some examples in the Mach-E:
• Powertrain Control Module (PCM)
• Secondary on-board diagnostic control module (SOBDM)
• Battery energy control module (BECM)
• Secondary on-board diagnostic control module B (SOBDMB)
• Secondary on-board diagnostic control module C (SOBDMC)
• Anti-lock brake system (ABS)

Once Ford adds the ability to update firmware via OTA, you shouldn't ever have to stop by the dealership for these updates.

And yes, Tesla has supported Firmware updates at least since I got my Model 3 in 2018. They reprogrammed the Anti-lock braking via OTA after Consumer Reports discovered a problem within a few days after finding it.

To date, Porsche's Taycan only supports software updates, firmware has to be flashed by a dealer. I'm not sure about other manufacturers.

So... Ford will have another great feature in the near future to make your Mach-E experience even better!

And I hope this post explains the situation a little better.
I don't believe this is accurate.

As @breeves002 has pointed out in multiple other posts, the OTA that has been recently rolling out provided an update to Gateway Module A (GWM). This was a firmware update.

Further, most of the vehicle's modules are OTA updatable per Ford's service documentation.

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littlD

littlD

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I don't believe this is accurate.

As @breeves002 has pointed out in multiple other posts, the OTA that has been recently rolling out provided an update to Gateway Module A (GWM). This was a firmware update.

Further, most of the vehicle's modules are OTA updatable per Ford's service documentation.

1618158412423.png

1618158435310.png
1618158461319.png

1618158474410.png
Thanks for this, sure helps provide better facts concerning the Mach-E on which modules can be OTA updated, much longer list to be sure than I knew about!

Still not sure why the PCM couldn't just be updated via an OTA now if this says it can. Maybe Ford playing it safe?
 

macchiaz-o

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Thanks for this, sure helps provide better facts concerning the Mach-E on which modules can be OTA updated, much longer list to be sure than I knew about!

Still not sure why the PCM couldn't just be updated via an OTA now if this says it can. Maybe Ford playing it safe?
My sense is that yes, they're playing it safe. This is the first vehicle on a new, higher speed network architecture, with a new approach to managing updates for Ford. They need to dip their toes before jumping in.

I believe the new F-150s and Broncos have the same architecture. They will also have much greater market share and attention paid to this stuff from press and customers. So I'm kind of expecting to see quality and frequency of updates to ramp up from here.
 

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And on top of all this, there is a term that is kind of unique to Ford and/or the automotive industry: calibration

They refer to a specific version of a module's firmware as a "calibration"

Thanks for this, sure helps provide better facts concerning the Mach-E on which modules can be OTA updated, much longer list to be sure than I knew about!

Still not sure why the PCM couldn't just be updated via an OTA now if this says it can. Maybe Ford playing it safe?
I would guess it's partially playing it safe, and partially not having the OTA process/infrastructure ready yet

They have the systems and processes in place at every dealer to flash new module firmware. The systems where they post the firmware for dealers to download are well tested

They've just pushed the first OTA, which seems to have been very minor and more or less a smoke test and only updated the main gateway module. As they get their feet under them they can push more and more out, but in the meantime they need to get these specific things with charging and ABS fixed, so they can use the dealer based system for now
 

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And on top of all this, there is a term that is kind of unique to Ford and/or the automotive industry: calibration

They refer to a specific version of a module's firmware as a "calibration"



I would guess it's partially playing it safe, and partially not having the OTA process/infrastructure ready yet

They have the systems and processes in place at every dealer to flash new module firmware. The systems where they post the firmware for dealers to download are well tested

They've just pushed the first OTA, which seems to have been very minor and more or less a smoke test and only updated the main gateway module. As they get their feet under them they can push more and more out, but in the meantime they need to get these specific things with charging and ABS fixed, so they can use the dealer based system for now
I've always viewed "calibration" as simply a set of parameters and/or values that the vehicle uses to operate.

Thus different calibrations aren't necessarily software (or even firmware) just values programmed into tables that the software/firmware uses. (So the calibration is the values in the database that the program uses kind of thing.)

It is likely that for the Mach-E the definition of "calibration" has expanded somewhat from that, however.
 

Jimrpa

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It‘s the module that can release the front trunk ;)
I was being a bit sarcastic there - I meant as in “when will the full functionality of that module be enabled for NA vehicles?” Things like opening the front trunk from the app and the screen?
I promise to try to avoid humor and be dry and boring in all my future posts 😀
(Not 😉)
 

Jimrpa

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And on top of all this, there is a term that is kind of unique to Ford and/or the automotive industry: calibration

They refer to a specific version of a module's firmware as a "calibration"



I would guess it's partially playing it safe, and partially not having the OTA process/infrastructure ready yet

They have the systems and processes in place at every dealer to flash new module firmware. The systems where they post the firmware for dealers to download are well tested

They've just pushed the first OTA, which seems to have been very minor and more or less a smoke test and only updated the main gateway module. As they get their feet under them they can push more and more out, but in the meantime they need to get these specific things with charging and ABS fixed, so they can use the dealer based system for now
While I wouldn’t expect OTA to necessarily be “bulletproof”, remember that the vehicle has been in development for a couple of years, so they’ve had a lot of time to work on the process. Also, Sync 3 had a primitive version of OTA updates, so OTA updates aren’t a completely foreign concept to Ford. Finally’ let’s consider that there are only about 10,000 units “in the wild”. If they started updates on March 18th and I haven’t been updated yet, and they’re only doing updates Mon-Fri, then, at best, they’re pushing about 600 updates per day. That number just doesn’t feel right (it feels way too low). As they ramp up to 35,000 vehicles in NA, even going at 2,000 updates a week, it would take over 3 weeks to get an update out to the Mustang Mach Es. Now, if they’re using this same mechanism on a high volume product like F150, then I have no idea how this is sustainable. The rate has to pick up dramatically.
 

mixduptransistor

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I've always viewed "calibration" as simply a set of parameters and/or values that the vehicle uses to operate.

Thus different calibrations aren't necessarily software (or even firmware) just values programmed into tables that the software/firmware uses. (So the calibration is the values in the database that the program uses kind of thing.)

It is likely that for the Mach-E the definition of "calibration" has expanded somewhat from that, however.
You may view it that way, but that's not how it works in Ford land. It's referring to a specific version of the firmware, not just to a certain set of settings
 

mixduptransistor

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While I wouldn’t expect OTA to necessarily be “bulletproof”, remember that the vehicle has been in development for a couple of years, so they’ve had a lot of time to work on the process. Also, Sync 3 had a primitive version of OTA updates, so OTA updates aren’t a completely foreign concept to Ford. Finally’ let’s consider that there are only about 10,000 units “in the wild”. If they started updates on March 18th and I haven’t been updated yet, and they’re only doing updates Mon-Fri, then, at best, they’re pushing about 600 updates per day. That number just doesn’t feel right (it feels way too low). As they ramp up to 35,000 vehicles in NA, even going at 2,000 updates a week, it would take over 3 weeks to get an update out to the Mustang Mach Es. Now, if they’re using this same mechanism on a high volume product like F150, then I have no idea how this is sustainable. The rate has to pick up dramatically.
Obviously the rate would not stay at 600 updates a day, if that is the actual number, forever. Even if this has been in development for years, there's a difference between it being in development with a few dozen or even a hundred cars, and it being out in the wild with thousands of cars in an uncontrolled environment. As they refine their process and get more comfortable with it they will increase the deployment rate and add more to the OTA and rely less on dealer service departments to do the updates
 

breeves002

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Most Ford modules are just 'firmware' or 'calibration'. Most don't have "software". This wording is all completely silly as it's just a way to explain how the firmware is loaded onto the module.

tl;dr In almost all Ford modules there isn't a difference in software and firmware. They're updated the same way no matter what's getting put on it. The only exception is the APIM....but both can be updated at the same time with it.

For example, almost all modules are firmware updated with FDRS where it has a boot loader, then the various firmware files. One of those firmware files is a large update package which is the "software" for that module. The IPMA for example can be 2gb+ for that one piece of the firmware upgrade. This is how it is for nearly every module.

The biggest exception to this is the sync 4 apim. It has totally different firmware and software. With Sync 3 (assuming sync 4 is the same but it is too early to tell) you can change the software without changing the firmware and vise versa. Newer firmware supports newer car features. For example old Sync 3 APIMs don't support 2020+ vehicles with HS-4 CAN for the TCU. EVEN if they're on the latest 3.4 software. However you can firmware update them and then have that support. Some Ford Sync 3 USB updates updated both the firmware and software of the APIM.
 

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I've always viewed "calibration" as simply a set of parameters and/or values that the vehicle uses to operate.

Thus different calibrations aren't necessarily software (or even firmware) just values programmed into tables that the software/firmware uses. (So the calibration is the values in the database that the program uses kind of thing.)

It is likely that for the Mach-E the definition of "calibration" has expanded somewhat from that, however.
Yep, calibration is just a data map or parameter map. The base "app" is not normally affected by a calibration change. You might have base neural net software on the PCM, and the "calibration" is just the data maps and training data.

Normally firmware or software is only a definition of the physical device storing the code. I would say firmware was historically not modifiable by the operating system and required unique equipment to load it. It was sort of "permanent" software. Code referred to as Software could be modified by the operating system or by users.

Bootloaders are likely the most static code. This is the code that loads the code...
 

Jimrpa

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Obviously the rate would not stay at 600 updates a day, if that is the actual number, forever. Even if this has been in development for years, there's a difference between it being in development with a few dozen or even a hundred cars, and it being out in the wild with thousands of cars in an uncontrolled environment. As they refine their process and get more comfortable with it they will increase the deployment rate and add more to the OTA and rely less on dealer service departments to do the updates
Clearly, and that was my point. The current rate is unsustainable. And we know the current rate is, at most that, because we know the production numbers and we know for a fact that not everyone has received the update. By assuming Ford was only bushing updates during M-F business hours, I was trying to give them a benefit that would produce a higher update rate. Actually, I believe people have been reporting receiving updates overnight.
 

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