Drivers have little patience for standard comfort and safety features that fail. They expect new and existing features to integrate seamlessly, and these high expectations have revolutionised automotive development and production.
Arguably, new electronics and software-based features are the main drivers of innovation in vehicles today. Indeed, many of the latest luxury cars have the complexity and functionality of large computers. Of course, buyers wouldn’t see it that way – they simply want a vehicle that is reliable enough to get them from A to B and does not need to be replaced too often.
In vehicles, software is all pervasive, controlling transmission to reduce fuel consumption and exhaust gases, and increasing safety through intelligent braking.
Drivers expect new and existing features to integrate seamlessly, and these high expectations have revolutionised automotive development and production.
However, while integrating embedded software and electronics, things can go wrong. For instance, a supplier that does not fully grasp software requirements may develop an interface for a new operating system or piece of firmware that doesn’t work. Spotting such an error late on can increase development costs by millions.
Thus, at the beginning of the 1990s, car manufacturers started to develop software standards for vehicle electronics such as OSEK (open systems and their interfaces for the electronics in vehicles), to ease the management of the increasingly complex bus systems in vehicle electronics.
While OSEK was successful at the time, embedded electronics and software systems have since attained a new level of complexity and require a wider reaching model of standardisation, so AUTOSAR (Automotive Open System Architecture) was introduced. This industry-wide automotive collaboration project is key to standardising automotive software architecture and simplifying the integration of innovative electronic systems that improve performance, safety and environmental friendliness.
Thanks to standardisation efforts, OEMs already have a better grasp of complex integration processes – no mean feat in an industry previously focused on plate bending and engine development rather than software. AUTOSAR has in some respects enabled OEMs to drive the process of software development, rather than be led by suppliers. Through AUTOSAR, OEMs can now share intellectual property with multiple suppliers over a standardised platform.
The AUTOSAR Core Partners have committed to adopting the standard over the next years, an industry-wide acceptance which is critical to ensuring that embedded electronics and software failure rates are reduced and automotive quality is improved.
With more rigorous testing come fewer failures resulting from integration problems. Fewer failures also mean more confidence for the vehicle manufacturer – and ultimately, the driver.
For OEMs and suppliers implementing AUTOSAR, a key success factor is the early establishment of a joint agreement to collaborate on preventing quality assurance problems. The open nature of AUTOSAR needs to be practised at all levels for the OEM/supplier relationship to work. For instance, results of maturity assessments and joint reviews need to be accessible in a shared knowledge base.
Once agreements are in place, uniform AUTOSAR interfaces allow for the performance of more standardised and automated embedded electronics and software tests, both at an operating system and functional level.
Any perceived barriers to implementing testing early on are also negated by AUTOSAR, as standardisation not only helps save on costs but at the same time establishes assured and defined reference interfaces for future software developments.
As AUTOSAR is adopted, OEMs or suppliers are more likely to outsource automotive software testing to specialist third party testing firms that have the interests of both the OEMs and suppliers at heart. Indeed, specialist testers can use the standardised AUTOSAR-based interfaces to carry out automated testing on an industrial scale; and with more rigorous testing come fewer failures resulting from integration problems. Fewer failures also mean more confidence for the vehicle manufacturer – and ultimately, the driver.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Thomas Thurner heads up the “Industrial Services and Solutions” division at SQS Software Quality Systems.
The SQS group (SQS) is the world’s leading specialist in software quality, and employs over 2,000 people in Europe, Asia, North America and Africa. In addition to maintaining a strong presence in Germany and the UK, SQS has subsidiaries in 12 countries. During 2010, SQS recorded sales of €162.9m. (www.sqs.com)
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