If the past few years have seen software infiltrating every component of the automobile, the year ahead may be the year that vehicle design takes a thoroughly software-centric approach. With in-vehicle electronic interfaces and semi-autonomous driving features becoming key points of differentiation among auto manufacturers, code is only going to become more important in the overall automobile development process. At the same time, developers may find themselves under more scrutiny as software security in cars becomes a more prominent issue and coding standards evolve to reflect the new realities of the automotive industry. Some of the key trends automotive developers may need to prepare for include:
Evolving expectations for in-vehicle technology
With car usage undergoing a steady decline among young people, manufacturers are looking for ways to make automobiles fit more seamlessly into the ecosystem of electronics and entertainment products that consumers are used to, a recent EE Times article noted. And such components are also becoming more important for establishing a competitive advantage: According to a recent Accenture survey, drivers choosing a vehicle are twice as likely to make a decision based on in-car technology rather than performance. Naturally, this means that in-car user interfaces are changing as well, shifting away from traditional dials and knobs to electronic systems more reminiscent of the tablets and smartphones consumers use every day.
"Software capability of a car (or car's computer) is also redefining what people can do inside a vehicle," Nvidia automotive director Danny Shapiro told EE Times.
A separate EE Times article noted the challenges of creating the perfect in-car user interface, explaining that, while a poor interface in a tablet can turn customers away, the wrong design in a car can put lives at risk. In particular, close attention is being paid to the increase in graphical components in dashboard systems. The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released guidelines suggesting that in-car features should not require drivers to take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds at a time and more than 12 seconds total to complete a task. Additionally, the agency recommended limiting functions such as text messaging and Internet browsing while the car is in motion. Such recommendations may not just be good safety practices; they might also be issues for vendors to consider as new competitors from the computing sector, such as Nvidia and Broadcom, enter the automotive market.
"Nobody wants foolishly complicated technology to replace simple functions," Crains News Service contributor Lindsay Chappell quipped in a recent column. He added, "[I]f I have to go through four screens to make the guidance voice stop telling me to turn right in 200 yards when I didn't even ask for guidance, then somebody out there is missing an opportunity to build a better car."
Increasing shifts toward vehicle autonomy
Self-driving cars were a frequent point of discussion over the past year, and while the technology still seems relatively far off, car makers Nissan and Daimler have publicly committed to rolling out autonomous vehicles by 2020, which means having test cars on the road by 2017, EE Times noted. As manufacturers gear up for this transition, vendors are rolling out more advanced driver assistance systems – and facing a rough end-of-2014 deadline if they wish for those technologies to be included in the first round of self-driving cars.
The next year, then, will likely see a range of market pressures encouraging vendors to quickly build and release software-centric tools, and it will also carry some key challenges as they work to ensure those systems are error-free. Also important in the year ahead will be discussions surrounding the policies and technology required to implement vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure tools, experts told EE Times.
Growing concern over in-car security
Reports of researchers hacking key car software systems have emerged at a steady pace over the past couple years, and studies have shown that it's possible for attackers to remotely control vehicles. While cybersecurity remains a relatively low priority for automotive vendors and instances of in-the-wild attacks have yet to emerge, the increase in vehicles' software components – particularly features that communicate wirelessly in the car or with the cloud – means that the risks are going to increase substantially in the coming years, EE Times noted. For instance, over-the-air software updates could present a risk.
"While you're doing all of these things, you need to maintain high levels of security in vehicle network," Dan Loop, business development manager for automotive applications processors at Freescale, told EE Times.
As increased automotive software use places new demands on user interface design, vehicle component safety and overall system security, companies need tools to ensure they meet MISRA standards and deliver error-free code. With tools such as static analysis software, vendors can scan code to ensure it meets key requirements and catch errors before they are released into production.
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