A few days ago, on the little-discussed internet-based idle thought broadcasting system run by a reclusive billionaire known as Twitter, there appeared a picture of a BMW i4’s center-stack screen. The screen was filled with text under the heading of REMOTE SOFTWARE UPGRADE, indicating that some sort of over-the-air update was happening, but below the heading and version information was a really peculiar error message, stating that “The road is too steep to start the installation.” What? The steepness of the road is too great to install software? Are there floppy disks that might slide out? Will all those ones and zeroes pool at one end of the car if it’s too tilted? What’s going on here? This is one of those peculiar things where I knew I couldn’t rest until I knew what the hell was behind this, so I reached out to BMW for answers. And now, I can free you from the tyranny of bafflement, too.
First, let’s look at the tweet that started all this:
In ‘sentences that would make your nan’s head explode’: I can’t update my car because I live on a hill pic.twitter.com/X0Jte5QYdG
— Clare Eliza (@clare_eliza) January 29, 2023
So, Clare there owns a BMW i4, and lives in the UK, seemingly on a steep hill. Clare captioned this with “sentences that would make your nan’s head explode,” and I think we can include most rational people who live in our current reality along with Clare’s nan there, because the idea that a computer can’t update its software because it’s on a hill makes no logical sense, at least based on most people’s experiences with computers and hills.
Clearly, there’s something up here, which is why I asked BMW. Happily, they had an answer, from BMW’s product and technology spokesperson:
Here’s the best we can do to answer your questions regarding the i4:
- The vehicle needs to be in an active remote software upgrade (RSU) campaign
- The download needs to be completed (fully automatically via vehicle SIM or via BMW Connected App, also fully automatically when correctly setup (see note below))
- Sufficient battery charging level
- Vehicle not parked on an incline
- Transmission must be in Park
- Engine must be off
The vehicle has all sorts of sensors (pitch, yaw, lateral and longitudinal acceleration and deceleration, etc.) that allow it to understand its orientation, so it knows when it’s on an incline. It’s likely a catchall, every-worst-case-no-matter-how-unlikely scenario safety precaution to try to prevent any chance of the vehicle moving should the programming be interrupted or go wrong.
Ohhhhhhh, I see. BMW is really just being prudent here, covering their ass, and, you know what? That’s probably a good idea. Software is complex, especially when it comes to what’s running in modern cars, and there are thousands and thousands of lines of code, and a bug anywhere in there could possibly have some very unforeseen consequences, which in an extreme case could potentially include something like, say, releasing the parking brake or disengaging the car from park or some other combination of causes that ends up with a shiny new electric car rolling down a hill and straight into a puppy farm or something.
So, it’s not some strange technical issue, it’s not that the antennae can only receive error-free data from some specific angles, it’s not that there are motion-sensitive hard drive platters, it’s just that BMW is playing it safe and making sure that some future bit of errant code won’t cause too much trouble. A bricked car sucks, of course, but a bricked car rolling down a hill into an intersection would suck so much more.
Eliminating as many variables and points of failure makes sense. Even if it may mean that steep-living people like Clare there have to move their cars somewhere to be updated. Or, maybe jack up the low end? I wonder if that would work?
What a marvelous world we live in! I can’t help but fear that with the help of AI it’s about to be made ever more so.
I think this shows the difference between the engineering mindset and the rest of humanity. The first thing I thought was “well of course you can’t update your firmware on a hill”. Maybe this is why I’m no fun at parties.
The integration of circuits in current BMW’s is insane, and it’s been that way for a while now.
? Six? years some guy backing out of a parking space hit the left end of my rear bumper cover, giving me the classic Camry Dent®️. No big deal but since the car was new and his insurance was paying, I had the bumper cover replaced at a good body shop. When I picked up the car and went to drive away, neither the AC nor the audio system worked… wow. Talked to the shop owner and he said, “Guys must have left a connection loose but there’s nobody here to fox it today so take it to BMW – bring me the bill.” I did, and I took him the bill: $1100 to reconnect whatever under the rear bumper cover kept the AC and Audio system from working. Yeah…
Similar thing happened to my wife’s CX-5 after collision repairs, but it took a while for the symptoms to develop. First, her key fob wouldn’t open the car, then the car itself had to have the key right next to the start button. Then one day, it all went haywire. TCS, ABS lights, speedometer doing a dance, complete mayhem. Turns out the collision repair people painted a bracket that had a major ground point and didn’t take enough paint and primer off to establish a good ground. It was $500 to dig in there and get that cleaned up because of all the stuff in the way.
The road is too steep? That’s the same excuse they give for not topping off the blinker fluid.
But if i have a BMW and park it on an angle I can still get my masochistic porn right? Preferably in B&W. Buttplugs and whips. Cmon i want COTD.
What appears to be blatantly obvious (to a German, anyway) is that during the software upgrade, some systems required to hold the car stationary on a steep incline may become temporary unavailable, so the car must be parked on level ground during the upgrade so that even if that happens, the car doesn’t roll away.
Maybe I am just too German to understand why this isn’t obvious to everyone.
That is the very first thought that jumped into my head, despite being non-German.
I know nothing! Nothing!
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“Or, maybe jack up the low end? I wonder if that would work?” I am inclined to think that would not work, unless maybe you jacked up the wheels instead of the body. If the sensors sense that the body is level but the wheels are at full travel the update process may freak out a bit, and it’s all downhill from there.
I guess it makes sense? You shouldn’t update a game controller while tilting the stick, so it’s kind of the same idea with the sensors.
Clearly the OP didn’t subscribe to the feature that allows for OTA updates to be installed on unlevel surfaces.
You mean the optional up grade upgrade?
Thanks for making it difficult to keep a straight face in my video meeting!
There could be memory leaks on an incline.
Being on Mountains Won’twork
I’m generally in favor of fewer regulations on cars, but I think it would be a pretty good idea to ban any OTA updates that can affect a parking pawl or parking brake.
That’s the thing about complex system programming. You may not intend an update to affect X part of the system, but it can always surprise you.
This is why I prefer to rely exclusively on sketchy, failure-prone mechanical systems in my vehicles. At least this way the potentially catastrophic failures aren’t surprising.
Yeah, can’t just bodge a repair on modern cars with random zeros and ones laying around like the rock & hose clamps used to repair a certain Yugo:
Yes! With a mechanical system and half a brain (I can’t claim to have much more), mechanical systems can be figured out.
I remember driving my old CJ and when I pushed the clutch in, the revs went nuts, Turns out the throttle cable was stuck and a roadside fix was made. If my throttle by wire Subaru did the same thing, I wouldn’t know what the hell to do.
I had a w205 C-class few years ago, and I left it at MB service to get my navigation map updated. After 3 hours of waiting and eating all their snacks in the waiting area I went to investigate, and the tech guy told me there was a slight problem as the navi update somehow interrupted gearbox software and infotainment touchpad got stuck. I got a loaner and had to get my car back the next day. The touchpad was still stuck.
How do you like the touchpad (when it’s working, of course).
It was awful. Such an attention bitch and imprecise that it drove me nuts. Actually, infotainment controls was the main reason I got rid of the otherwise nice car.
That’s assuming they even still have parking pawls. One of the EV manufacturers dropped them in favor of having only an electric parking brake. I was actually kind of expecting that to be the reason for this, although their vague answer means it might be and they just didn’t give specifics.
Great. Another slanted article about BMW.
Or an article about a slanted BMW?
I’m just not inclined top believe they are willing to die on this hill.
I steep what you did there
BMW is not willing to let you die on this hill.
BMW is always trying to tip the scales
Nah, no need to tilt at windmills, this article makes grade imo.