San Jose, CA Manufacturers of electronic products will need to rethink their design methodology and build their hardware to match their software, not vice versa, a software executive says.
Peter Magnusson, founder and chief technology officer of software simulator maker, Virtutech, says that many large OEMs haven't yet grasped the "software first" mentality, although it's in their best interest to do so. Many still erroneously believe that the brunt of their design hours reside on the hardware side, causing them to design hardware first and then write software at the last minute, resulting in performance issues and product recalls. Magnusson argues that such OEMs need to simulate their software and electronic environments first, and then build hardware around that environment.
"What it boils down to is you want to reduce the risk of a potentially large recall going undiscovered," Magnusson says. "The more software testing you do early on, the lower that risk is."
Magnusson recently told engineers and reporters at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, CA, that executives should look hard at the number of lines of code in their products.
"When you have 100,000 lines of code in your product, maybe the old way is still the best way to do it," he says. "But if your product now has 20 million lines of code in it, you're going to have to do it the other way around."
The "software first" approach enables OEMs to reuse code that might otherwise be extremely costly and time-consuming to rewrite, he argues. Magnusson contends that OEMs need to do so-called "nightly builds" on their products, constructing simulations as best they can in their entirety, and then restarting the process the next day, and the next, to prevent software from becoming an eleventh-hour task.
"Even a car or an airplane needs to be ready to be built every day," he says. "The question is whether or not you're ready to push the button and let it go an any given day."
Such processes are becoming particularly important for manufacturers of big, complex products, Magnusson says. The automobile industry, for example, is now producing complex hybrid vehicles that combine data from scores of sensors, making software systems increasingly more important.
"There's a historical bias among senior engineers in management," he contends. "When they were young engineers, they worried about hardware issues. So there's going to be a cultural transition that will need to take place."
Ultimately, Magnusson says, most big manufacturers will make that transition.
"In the end, the hardware designers are just going to have to bite the bullet," he says.