– Jeff Phillips Head of Automotive Marketing National Instruments
The automotive industry has been experiencing many disruptive and transformational forces these past years. The majority of these are technology-related as more electronics and software is deployed within new car models. The convergence of the automotive and technology industries aims to deliver safer and more energy-efficient vehicles that offer seamless integration with personal electronics and are exciting to drive. Automotive and technology companies have been collaborating for some time now, with infotainment systems seen as perhaps the first convergence point. However, the demand for hybrid and electric vehicles has accelerated the need for electronics-based systems. Electric traction motors require high-power drive controllers, and batteries require constant management to optimize their capacity for maximum range. The need to deliver high current switching capabilities for the controller and service high compute workloads have introduced a different set of semiconductor suppliers into the automotive supply chain.
In some cases, traditional semiconductor suppliers whose products previously used for simple comfort control applications, for example, have found themselves displaced in favour of the more powerful semiconductor devices. Likewise, many switches are now replaced by touchscreen controls as the infotainment system has become the focal point for not only music, radio and navigation, but as the control interface to a host of the vehicle’s emerging software-defined advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). ADAS functions such as adaptive cruise control (ACC), blind-spot warning, and lane-departure warnings are becoming commonplace in today’s vehicles, expanding the number and complexity of the electronic control units (ECUs) used. The software required by these complex systems has become ever more sophisticated as has the techniques to make them utilize the hardware resources more efficiently. Virtualization and hypervisor concepts, commonplace in data centre applications are increasingly prevalent within ECUs.
Incorporating all such innovations into our vehicles has been daunting for the automotive industry, presenting some significant challenges. One major obstacle has been how to make sure all the software-defined systems operate together in a predictable, reliable and safe manner. Traditional test regimes used across the automotive industry have not kept pace with the amount of technology now deployed within a vehicle, slowing the speed with which new vehicle platforms are brought to market. For example, in some cases, ECUs have been tested individually, one after another rather than testing multiple units at the same time in a parallel manner. Most notably is the fact that many ADAS systems, for example, an emergency braking system, are operating at extremely high speed using a solid-state radar with steerable beamforming features. Such situations introduce not only complexity in terms of the number of possible test conditions to be checked, but the speed with which the test equipment needs to operate. Further, software reliability and safety certifications such as ISO26262 has introduced formal software integrity levels of compliance to validate the many lines of code used to deliver semi- or fully autonomous driving. The nature of many safety functions also involve interdependence on other ADAS functions, introducing a further complexity to the test environment automotive manufacturers need to ensure compliance against automotive and government safety regulations.
Embracing a different approach to vehicle test is crucial for the automotive industry as they move to a world where a software-defined vehicle is standard. Conformance to internationally recognized safety standards is an important step forward to engender consumer confidence. Technology test in the IT world is equally important and well established. However, our laptop computer crashing or needing to be reset, something that we all regularly encounter, doesn’t have the potentially fatal and direcon sequences that an ECU crashing would when driving along a busy major route.
Automotive manufacturers need to embrace a new world of test, one that involves parallel testing of individual ECUs and modules, rapid automated testing across a wider range of test conditions, and a holistic test approach that encompasses all vehicle functions. A new approach to the test environment is required, one that can adapt further as the automotive and technology worlds converge even closer. By doing so, and by learning from test innovations already used in the technology industry, automotive manufacturers can gain competitive advantage, avoid unnecessary costs, and build trust with consumers.