Why Developing Automotive Software Is a Bit Different
The automotive industry has gone a long path in the last century. Unlike 100 years ago, cars are seen not as rare marvels of engineering but as a simple means of transportation. Of course, the main reason for that is the accessibility of automobiles. Today, they are produced by millions and millions each year, and the production facilities have all the modern technologies to make the process as efficient as possible. However, because of how common cars are, people tend to forget how the whole industry has evolved. Just take a look at modern automobiles, especially the electric ones. They are eco-friendly, efficient, fast, and very advanced. Most importantly, they depend on electronics only, including developing automotive software that is complex and responsible for every single operation inside the car. But the electric cars aren’t the only ones that represent the benefits of digitalization.
Look at almost any car produced later than 2015, and you’ll see some kind of infotainment system with a touch screen. And such displays have been around even a decade earlier than that, it’s just that they were mostly put into higher-end cars. All of such systems are based on some kind of software that connects the car and its hardware with the screen, to provide drivers with tons of useful information and functions. Yet, this is only the most basic example of automotive programs, as there’s a much more important side to it that is usually overlooked by drivers. The reality is, there’s the software inside every car that was built in the last few decades. The chips control the fuel injection, the ignition timings, and so on. As cars have been becoming more and more advanced, the number of computer-controlled aspects inside the cars have been rising rapidly.
And that’s why automotive software development is a completely different world of programming. But let’s elaborate further on this.
Developing Automotive Software – Security
First of all, let’s point out the most obvious differences between a car and a smartphone software-wise. A car is a huge 1-3 ton machine that is used for transportation. Therefore, even a slight miscalculation or other issues can lead to dramatic incidents, including heavy injuries and even many deaths. This can’t happen with a phone or PC, though. In the worst-case scenario, they can burn or explode. Of course, it is dangerous, but not even nearly as dangerous as a car in an unstable condition.
That means, everything inside the car needs to be flawless, including the ECU (electronic control unit) and software inside it. And the more an automobile is dependent on electronics, the more testing automotive software development companies need to make. What’s more important is that cars have very high safety requirements, and the number of tests that are required is insane. A phone only needs to be tested to discover how well it performs. But a car manufacturer needs to model every possible situation on the road, as there are dozens of factors that can become the cause of an accident:
- weather conditions that impact the visual orientation on the road;
- weather conditions that impact the grip on the road;
- the condition of the road itself;
- tires, their technical specifications, and condition;
- maintenance level of each part of the automobile (engine, suspension, transmission, etc.);
- road construction specifics (blind corners, dangerous crossroads, etc.).
And these are only the most well-known ones. A company developing automotive software needs to model and predict every single of those and ensure that their program works as intended and won’t let the driver down.
So, as you could probably guess, all that security requires a lot more work than creating a simple mobile app. And it’s only the first factor that impacts the complexity of programs. Because an automobile, in general, is much more complex than any other platform for software. There’s much more hardware, and the required precision of its operations is very high. For example, if the computer lets too much fuel into the cylinders during high RPM (revolutions per minute), it can lead to an explosion.
In the most modern cars, computers are responsible for most of the functions. These can be as simple as climate control and windshield wipers, and as complex as driving mode (normal, sport, snow, offroad, etc). What do these modes change? Well, everything. The amount of fuel injected the stiffness of the suspension, the road clearance, the steering, the pressure inside the turbine, and so on. Every single piece of machinery in a car depends on electronics nowadays. All of it requires software to work as intended. So, that only increases the number of tests, in addition to those required by security regulations.
Here’s another huge aspect of this industry. As we know, manufacturers release automobile models every 4-7 years. Why so? Because of the testing we mentioned earlier, partially. But the biggest role is played by the business factor. Manufacturing cars requires billions of dollars, thus leaving no room for mistakes. A company needs to predict everything for the next 5-10 years to be able to release a product that will be successful on the market and that will pay for itself in the long term. This is one of the reasons why the infotainment systems look so outdated and clunky, even inside the most advanced models.
Now you may ask: but why don’t these companies just not update the programs inside the car? Because it requires 3-5 years to ensure that every single bit of code works flawlessly with the hardware. Even the slightest change would require all the testing again and would need some pieces of hardware to be changed/adjusted/replaced. So, the development process is quite different too. Of course, it’s still based on the same core principle of “analyze, plan, design, develop, test, repeat”, but it also involves all the specifics of the industry.
The creators of such programs and computers need to make a product that will be put into automobiles for the next 5-7 or even more years, depending on the success of a particular model. They need to make sure that it is not only perfect security-wise, but that all the functions work as intended. This includes such circumstances as cold weather (up to -30℃ in some regions), hot weather (cars can heat up to 50℃ under the sun), constant humidity, and so on. Such things are kind of obvious and usually overlooked.
However, even the tiniest change in the flow of electrons can be a reason for a malfunction or an accident. Such things also impact the quality of the whole product and the comfort of drivers since today, no customer will ever buy a car that won’t work in particular conditions. It’s a machine that needs to operate without any flaws in any condition.
Developing Automotive Software – Summing Up
The automotive industry combines many technological advancements from other spheres to ensure that the released products bring the most comfort and satisfaction to drivers. It has a lot of its own specifics too, most of which have been evolving constantly for the last 100 years. So, no matter whether you’re a car enthusiast or a developer that wants to work in this area, we hope that this article helped you to understand the differences in developing automotive software from the ordinary one.