Is the automotive code evolution an inflection point?
Standards and tools use signals potential acceleration of productivity and an innovation curve
A century ago, assembly line production caused a paradigm shift in the automobile industry. The transition from handcrafting each car to manufacturing based on a standardized template, using tools, led to an exponential increase in productivity and efficiency. With the production of software now constituting a significant proportion of the value of a modern car, the stage is set for a similar boost in efficiency with widespread adoption of tools and universal adherence to software standards.
In the early 20th century, the assembly line was introduced in automobile factories to increase the efficiency and bring about a decrease in the manufacturing time. With the evolution of the assembly line, manufacturing activities became more mechanized and increasingly standardized. Tools and increasing automation drastically cut down the time needed to build cars. Ford rode the enhanced productivity wave to become the market leader -- so much so that, at one point, every other car was a Ford. With time, the flip side of standardization became clear. Ford’s strategy of relying mainly on the standardization and the consequent reduction in price to sell their cars lost steam, and rivals made inroads into their market share by producing innovative and more customized models.
By the turn of the 21st century, software development companies had realized the value of having standardized techniques in software. However, unlike the machinery and other hardware, which can have specifications that can be detailed without any ambiguity, software was still considered by many to be too amorphous an area to be standardized completely. The necessity for doing so, however, was becoming increasingly apparent, given the challenges for the companies resulting from the sheer amount of software embedded in cars. Given the huge supply chain in the industry, there is simply too much code cascading from one subsystem into another, thus creating safety concerns. In addition, building new features on top of legacy software adds to the complexity at the interfaces between software modules with hardware sensors and actuators.
The establishment and adoption of software standards is an attempt to have a common language among the different software makers, and tool use enables the development and management of complex, innovative software. The evolution can be seen in the movement from tools that solve only a particular need to fully integrated tools that link across the entire software development lifecycle. Standards have also matured in disparate areas, from architecture and functions to safety standards (AUTOSAR for systems development, GENIVI for in-vehicle infotainment system, and ISO 26262 for functional safety, respectively).
This evolution means that the safety and functional standards, as well as tool use, are shaping the software production environment today. To bridge the gap between various specialized systems and to ensure quality and safety, adherence to industry standards is de rigueur. Further, exploding complexity and shortened time to market necessitates taking advantage of available tools and automating wherever possible. The enormous productivity advantages of using the latest development tools and processes have been covered extensively in several case studies.
The increasing pace of evolution in automotive software, in addition to the trends mentioned, are removing the barriers to innovation while dramatically reducing the cost of change. Although there are is no set of universal mandates to adhere to, there is a momentum building toward adhering to the standards currently available. Therefore, just like a century ago, we might be seeing the effects of another inflection point in the automotive industry, one that is being exploited by the companies that use integrated tools to produce innovative software that conforms to industry standards.
Read case study on Cars.com
Read solution brief on AUTOSAR development
Read solution brief on innovative software
About the author
Deepak Vasu Nair is the worldwide system Go-to-Market Manager for Rational software. He has more than eight years of experience in the automotive and aerospace industries. He has an engineering degree in Medical Electronics and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore.