For years, automotive engineers have paraded new advancements and technology when designing automobiles. Whether it be more horsepower, a lighter chassis or increased fuel efficiency, such news would be plastered across billboards on every street corner. However, hidden under the glitz and glam of each new car lay mountains of instructions; code.
As automobiles became increasingly complex, engineers from both the hardware and software side were forced to develop components and code in parallel to meet deadlines and budgets. With the rise of the Internet of Things, hardware engineers became even more pressured to design automobiles that could connect with other products via an internetworking system.
Restructuring the Parallel Engineering Process
Historically, hardware and software engineers worked in parallel with each other throughout the development process, only to connect during the final phase of production. The distribution of information between both internal engineering groups was inefficient and susceptible to human error. At times, is seemed that there was an internal rift between both groups (e.g. hardware engineer versus software engineer).
Companies such as Google and GE became famous for their “fail fast, fail often” approach, particularly when designing software. While this method proved to be an effective way to develop products within certain industries, in the high-risk automotive industry, a single failure could lead to catastrophic events that may destroy products, careers or even lives.
Although software issues can be easily remedied via system updates, such changes may inadvertently affect hardware compatibility, rendering the automobile defective. Contrary to the patterns of the past 30 years, it is more important than ever to have well-documented and cohesive integration between hardware and software engineers during the entire course of an automobiles development to prevent such disasters from occurring.
Tradition Evolves With Technology
Despite strict regulations, standards and the risk of failure, companies continue to integrate increasingly complex software into automobiles, transforming what was once a few mechanical components and circuitry.
In the past, if you wanted new features for a product, you would have to buy an entirely new product; nowadays, each month brings a new software update that expands upon current physical capabilities without making a single hardware change. Though effective in providing consumers with the latest and greatest features and security guarantees, traditional companies are now scrambling to produce a product that meets consumer demands for continual updates, without disrupting consumer purchasing patterns.
With autonomous cars being the next frontier in the automotive industry, the lines of code within a car will only increase. Management solutions that bridge the divide between hardware and software during a product’s development allow for accountability and traceability, remediating problems before they occur. Preventative action as a result of early integration allow companies like Volvo to shoulder the burden and accept full liability should something occur to a vehicle as a result of autonomous driving.
“The most innovative companies are tackling world changing problems through the development of connected technologies that at their core collect, process, and make intelligent real-time decisions,” the author writes. “These smart technologies are safety and often life critical; therefore, it’s more important than ever for respective hardware, software, and quality teams to maintain alignment throughout an ever increasingly dynamic product development process.”
Through the usage of collaborative product development software, automotive engineers can create a set of common assets that could then be used in support of parallel development. Engineers working from both the hardware and software side can access requirements quickly, eliminating the risk of rework and wasted time. If requirements were to change, engineers would be notified and could thus spend their time addressing requirements unique to each project.
Companies will need to begin implementing better practices in the increasingly difficult realm of product development if they wish to future-proof products and comply with ever-changing regulations. By doing so, organizations create best-in-class solutions while streamlining costs and reducing development and implementation cycles.
How the Intangible Affects the Tangible
As today’s automotive industry shifts toward self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles, the interoperability between physical components and software functions needs to be explored even further. With so many components working in tandem, it is critical for automotive engineers to ensure that the software instructing those elements complies with set regulations and does not jeopardize the functionality of the automobile. A single change to a hardware or software component during the design process can result in a catastrophic ripple effect felt across the entire production line.
Through increased collaboration, engineers can identify and mediate all single points of failures the moment they appear, saving resources and preventing future system malfunctions. For high-risk industries (such as automotive), these issues must be resolved before a product is introduced to the market. For companies in highly regulated markets, traceability between hardware and software engineers allows teams to pinpoint the precise location where a regulation was violated because of a design change.
Cohesion between the hardware and software teams during development ensures alignment throughout the entire process. Should a conflict be detected, traceability and verification systems allow the two teams to easily remedy the situation. With the heightened interest in the self-driving car, it is critical for automotive engineers to understand the impact of a single design change on the functionality and safety of the vehicle, whether the change be physical or software related. For leading companies in the autonomous vehicle field, such as Tesla, Lucid Motors and Google, knowing the future impact of a single change in hardware or software can save money, time and resources.
In December 2013, Eric Nguyen joined the Jama team as its development director, and he now serves as vice president of demand generation. With more than 20 years of experience in product management and marketing, Eric has broad experience running teams and translating customer needs, development trends and industry standards into product features. Before coming to Jama, he led account management and ad operations at Admax Network, the largest ad network in Southeast Asia prior to acquisition, and served as a product manager for WebMD and GE Healthcare.
Filed Under: Rapid prototyping