Racing Towards Self-Driving Software & the Internet of Cars

  August 28, 2017

Fundamental Change on the Horizon

How do cars talk to each other today? One driver can honk at another. It’s pretty crude. That is quickly changing though - and, for the most part, that’s a good thing.

Cars are becoming complex computers, expected to drive autonomously, download software updates regularly, and impress riders with the sound quality and entertainment value of a home theater. Soon, cars will be communicating with each other to do everything from switching lanes to balancing traffic congestion. When you combine machine-learning, complex data, and growing automotive networks, you get a dramatically different industry.

A Focus on Process and the Future of ISO 26262

Today, every car is comprised of hundreds of programmable computing elements and millions of lines of code. Each Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) in the industry has to meet safety standards like ISO 26262 in order to qualify their part to be included in a vehicle. The increasingly-complex architecture of an automobile is in many ways the sum of its parts. In order to produce an electrical and electronic systems network, or an E/E system, an OEM runs a product development process that encompasses system, software, and hardware design. Each of these phases has a unique ISO 26262 section that outlines expected process standards. Some companies also need to include considerations for similar but distinct standards like Automotive SPICE® and CMMI.

Will the advent of autonomous vehicles change functional safety standards? As of now, it doesn’t look like the changes will be that drastic. The initial version of ISO 26262 was published in 2011; and next year, edition 2 of ISO 26262 will be released. In order to streamline some of the compliance confusion, it is reported that edition 2 will group process-related requirements all into just one section, require a communication channel between functional safety and related disciplines, and expand its scope to cover motorcycles, trucks & buses, autonomous systems, and semiconductors. Because the standards focus so much on risk assessment and quality management, what the part is doesn’t matter as much as how the part is developed.

The Burden of Quality Management for Automotive Suppliers

The importance of quality management throughout the development lifecycle will increase as the stakes get higher. At the end of July, the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House voted to send a new bipartisan proposal to the floor to allow companies like Uber and Google to expand the scope of testing for autonomous vehicles up to 100,000 cars. While the bill hasn’t passed yet, the momentum and excitement behind this technology is encouraging regulators to take proactive steps to shape and grow this market.

When you get rid of human drivers, you also (mostly) get rid of human error as an explanation for collisions. The legal and technical liability around safety will fall solely on the car company’s shoulders, from design through production. Risk in the automotive industry is changing and if you are an automotive OEM, it is better to be overcautious than ill-equipped. Identifying a bug in a block of source code before an update is pushed out could be the difference between life or death.

Adopting Peer Review Tools Early 

With more software to review than ever before, automotive OEMs will need to grow their internal code review capabilities. The sooner that automotive OEMs adopt reliable and comprehensive quality management tools, the more prepared they will be from both a process and compliance standpoint. Since standards like ISO 26262 require all aspects of the development lifecycle to be managed for quality, this same level of assessment must also be applied to reviews of design documents, requirements, and test cases. When an auditor requests documentation around a potentially problematic software decision, they need to be able to access a clear record of who was involved in the process and what was said.

A lot of code and document review tools aren’t designed to meet these high-regulatory burdens. Collaborator, our premier code and document review tool for highly-regulated industries, offers data archiving and customizable workflows to make audits as painless as possible. When a company’s design and development process is meaningfully documented, the reports can also be leveraged internally to make continual improvements.

Be One Gear Ahead

If you are an automotive OEM, the good news is that the regulations that you are familiar with don’t seem to be changing very dramatically. That could also be bad news. If these standards fall too far behind and result in new legal burdens or legislation to compensate, you might need to scramble to comply. Establishing internal process standards is the best way to stay ahead of the certification curve. The potential of your process is limited by the tools that you have in hand, so start by bringing in a reliable quality management tool and getting your teams trained so that if process expectations change, you have breathing room.

To learn more about Collaborator for code and document review, start a free 30-day trial or schedule a demo with one of our engineers.