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Cars of the future will be driven by software, says Electric Cloud

Rachael Hogg talks to Electric Cloud about how tech-savvy start ups might be about to transform the automotive industry

The number of lines of code in a single automotive electronic control unit (ECU) already often reaches into the tens of millions. However, as emissions and safety regulations tighten, the role played by electronics is set to see the use of software in automotive applications increase many times over. Add to this the rising demand for infotainment and consumer electronics capabilities in cars, and the scene is set for vehicles driven by software. This software needs to be written quickly, verified and constantly maintained; errors can have huge implications.

Developers are expected to work at increasing speeds, and subsequently have less time to spend on manual maintenance tasks, and it is here that companies providing software production management solutions can gain a competitive edge. Electric Cloud helps to get software to market at a faster rate, by assisting companies to automate, accelerate and analyse software build-test deployment processes. The US-based company works across a variety of industries, including automotive. Andreas Dharmawan, Senior Director of Solutions and Services at Electric Cloud spoke to Megatrends about the increasing complexity of cars, and the software delivery challenges presented by the automotive industry.

Electric Cloud focuses on many markets, but what is the automotive aspect of your company?

Marc Andreessen, Groupon and LinkedIn investor, said a few years ago that ‘software is eating the world’. The automotive industry is using software at a rapidly increasing rate and customers demand the same services in their cars as on their smartphones. If you look at the technology to reduce traffic congestion and increase fuel efficiency, cars now have software for this. Much of the automotive supply chain is hiring software engineers who are in a very competitive market.

OEMs can conduct considerable software development on the test side, but can’t work fast when the module they build goes into multiple models. For a supplier, the test metrics become even more complicated.
Many software modules need to be married into the hardware module, because software is an embedded system, so it’s not just running on Pentium or ARM chips. It goes into a different engine control unit. This could be for powertrain, transmission, ignition firing, or lighting. Even though the process of embedding software into hardware is semi-automated, it is not fully orchestrated. There are many manual tasks. We have also noticed that sometimes the team building the software is located in a different time zone to the team doing the testing, which leads to lost time.

What does Electric Cloud do for OEMs and suppliers?

Many of the manual processes need to be orchestrated. Electric Cloud can orchestrate and model an existing process. OEMs or suppliers don’t need to change the way they work. We help the automotive industry in two ways: one is orchestrating the build, test, and release process to eliminate time consuming and error prone manual tasks, and eliminating the delays of cross-timezone work. The second is pure acceleration – much embedded software is written in C/C++, and Electric Cloud accelerates the build time for C/C++. The top five embedded companies in the world are Electric Cloud customers because they do a large volume of C/C++ build, and we can reduce a build that previously took six hours, into 20 minutes, through massive parallelisation.

Why did Electric Cloud enter the automotive industry in the first place?

A customer called us who was trying to master agile development, but their time to market and quality was an issue. Two types of company approach us. One has an issue with the coordination of effort. They master the agile but the time to market and product quality is still low. We help with their build, test, and release. The other is a customer whose build time takes six hours and is unable to carry out agile development.

How important is the automotive industry within your company, and what role will it play in Electric Cloud’s business strategy long term?

Automotive is a growth business – we would like to grow our company rapidly and see automotive as a sector where we can grow. We are promoting and evangelising continuous delivery. Many of our existing customers are on that transformation. We want to always be the leader in the continuous delivery space and to move it to automotive.

One area of concern is reliability and the avoidance of software-related malfunctions. How can your system help car manufacturers overcome bugs?

Our product allows the development team to move faster between build and test. Because we have the technology of massive parallelisation, a lot of the first permutations have complex build and test metrics. If you can iterate every day, you discover bugs almost every day. When you discover these bugs, the development team can fix it sooner. In the past, the product would be released without adequate bug fixing and these bugs would be discovered by customers. Our customers can move the bug peak to earlier in the test cycle, so a developer can collaborate and reduce or eliminate all priority one and zero bugs, and confidently release the software.

The ability to display the progress of each team, and the status of each artefact as it goes through the pipeline of continuous delivery is also important. We can maintain a module through our artefact repository, and show the health of a particular module as it goes through the product lifecycle. At the end, you can have a bill of materials in terms of software. This allows faster root cause analysis.

Finally, could you please comment on what you see as the key megatrends shaping the automotive industry of the future, and how you are accommodating these in your product development?

Mobility is changing because the population growth is accelerating. There is a trend of people moving into urban settings. The number of available roads in the world is not growing as fast as the number of cars. I do not see everyone adopting public transportation in a few years. It has values and strengths, but personal transportation is still highly desired. The migration is more towards smaller cars.

The technology that drives the car will change as well. Instead of focusing on combustion technology, the market will focus on electric or hybrid technologies. A lot of alternative technology goes into smaller cars, so I see more personal transportation devices. All of these things require software. This is not only going into the car, but into the infrastructure, because the vehicle needs to communicate with both the driver and the road.

This article was first published in the Q2 2014 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue

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