Government fines and recalls are heightening the need for automakers to adopt more safety standards and software verification techniques, experts at EE Live said this week.
"Clearly, there's been an acceleration in the use of (safety) standards," Jim McElroy, vice president of marketing for LDRA, a maker of automated software verification systems, told Design News. "But now there are market drivers that are going to force automotive suppliers and OEMs to adhere to safety development processes and standards."
Indeed, those "drivers" are growing costly for automakers. Toyota's recent $1.2 billion settlement in its unintended acceleration cases has highlighted the need for more rigorous and verifiable software development processes. General Motors' ignition switch problem has also spotlighted the role of safe design practices.
In March, embedded design expert Jack Ganssle estimated that Toyota's litigation pushed the cost of its software code to an incredible $1,200 per line. Ganssle suggested that the sometimes-laborious process of doing software verification might add some initial complexity, but argued that it could cut costs in the long run. "Take your pick: $1,200+++/LOC for crappy code or $80 for world class," he wrote in a blog on the subject.
Software safety is becoming especially important now, as automotive features grow more interconnected. Braking, steering, cruise control, and throttle-by-wire systems are increasingly linked, sometimes even to such disparate features as infotainment and multimedia. As a result, all can be considered safety-critical.
Functional safety standards, such as ISO 26262 and IEC 61508, are gaining momentum among automakers as a means of helping develop quality software and hardware for electronics. McElroy said, however, that far fewer than 50% of automakers are believed to be taking steps to ensure compliance to such standards.
"The software development processes being used by the auto companies in general are not as formal and rigorous as the ones we see in other areas, such as avionics and high-speed rail," McElroy told us.
For automakers who want to adopt such practices, vendors are starting to roll out products. LDRA, for example, recently released a software package that helps automakers and suppliers comply with standards such as ISO 26262. Known as LCMS, it walks customers through the compliance process, ultimately enabling them to manage software development and verification.
Experts at EE Live said that the auto industry is reaching a point where manufacturers can't afford to ignore safety standards and verification procedures. "If you add all this up, you see that Toyota is paying approximately $3 billion to make the litigation go away," embedded expert Michael Barr said in an EE Live keynote speech last week. "But they are not addressing defects in the software."
McElroy acknowledged that compliance and verification processes will add another layer of complexity to the lives of software developers, but he predicted such procedures will eventually be regarded as a necessity. "In the short term, life becomes a little more difficult for developers because they need to be more formal in their processes," he told us. "But in the long run, it saves them time and money."