Embedded software is car manufacturing’s biggest challenge

OVUM VIEW

Summary

The exponential rise in embedded software is a tremendous success story for the computer industry. However, as automotive manufacturers keep adding new software-related features, the signs are that they have yet to learn lessons that the IT world is only too familiar with. A report from insurer Warranty Direct shows that electrical faults in cars, including software defects, are on the rise, representing 27% of all faults (averaged across all models). Car manufacturers need to understand better how to create reliable embedded software by defining a role for software lifecycle management in the product world.

Software is licensed, but cars are owned

When a buyer signs the purchase contract for a new car, he or she is given a promise of roadworthiness that rarely applies to purchased software. The effort that goes into ensuring the safety of the driver and passengers and the reliability of the vehicle is expected to cover all aspects of the vehicle, including the embedded software. The problem is that software has bugs. According to the latest car reliability index report compiled by Warranty Direct, electrical faults in some models account for more than one-third of faults.

Unlike cars, which are bought and owned, software applications are licensed. If you read the terms of a typical license agreement, there is no guarantee that the software is defect free. This may seem unfair, but the reality is that no software can be guaranteed bug free; it would take the lifetime of the universe to complete exhaustive testing through all possible permutations of how a software offering could be used. Therefore, the software-testing profession devises test strategies that offer a degree of reliability acceptable to users. Different strategies apply, depending on the application and health and safety issues. For example, NASA employs 20 testers for each developer, whereas many business IT departments have that ratio switched around.

The challenge for the car industry is the need for growth in embedded software to be matched by software lifecycle management (SLM) to ensure that the software meets reliability expectations. The typical enterprise IT user is used to downloading software patches regularly, but this is not the practice for car owners (at least not yet). The occurrence of embedded software-related glitches requires bringing the car to a mechanic – a comparatively expensive, labor-intensive activity. Given the safety considerations, it is also unlikely that car owners will be asked to reprogram vehicles themselves, although remote access by mechanics is possible. For now software glitches need to be serviced like a breakdown of any physical car part.

There are two issues at play here: first, how the automotive industry can improve embedded software reliability during the product development stage; and second, how the nature of the local mechanic will need to evolve to service software-related problems. This is a huge problem in the independent aftermarket sector. For example, in the UK there has been an outcry from independent mechanics as the technology in cars is becoming so advanced that they are being left behind and pushed out of the market.

SLM and PLM are meeting in the embedded world

SLM is a management approach to software development that has given rise to a more mature IT industry, resulting in higher-quality products and more efficient project delivery. It has also led to the industry of integrated SLM solutions providing automation that leads to faster time to market at lower risk.

Taking a lifecycle approach becomes more critical as the amount of software content in automobiles becomes significant; for instance, the latest BMW has more than 10 million lines of code. The trend of in-car entertainment systems is also adding to the sophistication and overall complexity of embedded software and electronics. There is the additional challenge that software control units need to be designed and tested in tandem with the mechanical parts and electrical systems: car manufacturing requires a holistic approach to design, build, and test.

The market leaders in the product lifecycle management (PLM) space, including Dassault, PTC, and Siemens, have taken different approaches to the SLM-PLM integration question. PTC completed its acquisition of application lifecycle management (ALM) vendor MKS on May 31, 2011. PTC plans to integrate MKS tools into the PTC product portfolio, including PLM solution Windchill. We can expect a streamlined end-to-end lifecycle management solution that spans software, products, and systems.

The approaches at Dassault and Siemens are not to compete with established ALM vendors, but to work with them in a complementary manner. A key area where software, systems, and mechanics meet is the product design stage. Dassault, with its launch of V6, is focusing on holistic modeling and simulation as its unique differentiator, combining all three aspects of the product into one co-simulation environment. The SLM community increasingly understands the importance of open standards and third-party tool interoperability. Standards in vertical industries are helping tool integration; for example, Automotive Open System Architecture (AUTOSAR) and Requirements Interchange Format (RIF) in the automotive industry are playing a strong part.

These are still early days, and car manufacturers are focusing on the problems of embedded software complexity: the lesson from enterprise IT is that the “how” is known, and Agile processes can play an influential role. The tools vendors are also progressing along their roadmaps, and the automotive industry will begin to see the benefits of mature SLM practices.

APPENDIX

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