Product Innovation Trends

From Autonomous Developers, Dangerous Drivers

The Age of Automotive Electronics: SEMI Forum Discussion Pt. III

“The technology must advance. There is no question that more of these automations in every car on the road and on the road itself will save lives … If anything, there is a serious wake-up call that we need to take a holistic view of autonomous driving, that the highway could one day become a safer place thanks to sensors that look around the car constantly and can brake and swerve for you. They need to improve, not stall out.”
Despite a major setback, self-driving car tech must advance
John Brandon, Computerworld

“It’s useful if [development teams] … have a better understanding of what’s going on, because we’ve got way too many compartmentalized processes out there. Somebody can solve their own problem, but they don’t realize what impact that is having on somebody else’s space. If you hadn’t solved that problem only for yourself, others could have taken advantage of your solution.”
Bill Chown, SEMI Pacific NW Forum Discussion (below)

SEMI, “the global industry association serving the manufacturing supply chain for the micro- and nano-electronics industries” hosted a spring Pacific Northwest forum which our attendees—Bill Chown (INCOSE CIO, Mentor Graphics Marketing Director), John Blyler (Portland State University Systems Engineering Professor & Advisor) and Derwyn Harris (Jama Software Co-founder & Product Marketing Director)—immediately got together to talk about afterward.

The tragic autonomous driving accident in June has raised awareness and broadened interest in the topic of smarter, safer automotive electronics systems.

In this light, we’re posting a transcript of our attendees’ discussion, divided into three parts with one post each week. Read part three, below.

automotive electronics

Bill Chown: I was just looking at something from one of my customers. It’s internal feedback from a review of process, and it reveals where there are gaps in adopting one of these new processes, and things that they possibly could have been doing better in the first place. Someone said, “We shouldn’t have been having this review and that review in the same room, ’cause we had all the people in the same room at the same time, listening to each other’s problems.”

Well, that sounds like a good argument, but actually, it’s useful if people do realize each other’s problems and have a better understanding of what’s going on, because we’ve got way too many compartmentalized processes out there. Somebody can solve their own problem, but they don’t realize what impact that is having on somebody else’s space. If you hadn’t solved that problem only for yourself, others could have taken advantage of your solution.

And so, I think some of these new standards are making people look again, and think again, and revisit. I don’t think a new automotive electronics standard’s miraculously going to make anything disaster-proof. But it is making people look at the process. And as we get more and more complexity, you need more of these kind of guides to help you not miss things.

John Blyler: When you think of process, rigor and standardization, some think of slowing things down or putting barriers in the way. But what you said about the need for more collaboration and bringing more people into that conversation—there’s real business value in that.

Being a software development shop, you have to be agile. As you work through certification, that’s been one of the debates: How do you combine or understand the difference between agility and process?

Bill Chown: Yes.

John Blyler: You realize that at the end of the day, that collaboration and interaction is at the core of agility. And you don’t necessarily need to throw out all documentation, which has been the decade-long debate, right?

Bill Chown: It’s been depressing to go into a few places and they say, “We’ve got our normal process. And then, we’ve got the safety critical process, but that’s very complicated. And it takes a lot of time and it costs us a lot more.” How are you going to maintain two processes? How much more is that costing you? You could probably save a lot by adopting the so-called difficult process universally.

And you go back to the same people and say, “Your normal process is fine, but how many times do you go around the loop? You revisit the same design three times—really? And you think the other process is worse? How many times do you go around on that process?” “Oh, not many. Never.”

Probably ‘cause they think it’s too expensive to go around the loop, but it actually brings to bear some of the thinking that should have been brought to bear, and eliminates some of those difficult issues.

John Blyler: Especially in safety and quality. It’s so important that you take that time.

Derwyn Harris: This idea that by optimizing a part of the subsystem, you optimize everything. Well, that’s not true. But the safety… Well, it fits in that too. If my system is optimized for safety, that doesn’t mean that the entire automotive electronics system is. And usually, at that level, when you’re optimizing the system, there are trade-offs with performance or resiliency or one thing or another.

Safety tends to be kind of like testing; how do you know when you’re done? Well, when you run out of money. So it’s going to have to be given thought early on, and thought of in a more systematic way.

John Blyler: That’s a big premise of what systems engineering is really all about.

Derwyn Harris: Safety, I think, has been pushed back a bit, so it’s going to require some different thinking.

Bill Chown: It’s pulling thinking forward in a process that’s not going to be left ‘til afterwards. Thinking “We’ll do that as an add-on” rather than as part of the plan won’t work.

Derwyn Harris: It will be interesting. I don’t know whether this is what will happen, but look at the medical device community and the way in which it’s regulated and the way it implements processes. These companies are figuring out how to gain efficiency to get goods to market faster. It’s so competitive. Will auto companies, especially regarding automotive electronics systems, head down that path?

I suspect that the lobbying group that’s recently formed around liability concerns is an effort to maybe decrease regulation, though it might actually result in them becoming more regulated.

John Blyler: I think it will be.

Derwyn Harris: Is there a future where cars have to be certified by some agency that goes through checks to make sure the cars aren’t not going to kill anyone? I mean, this is one way of avoiding recalls, which is part of the goal, certainly.

Bill Chown: Yeah, if you can produce something that doesn’t inflict the cost of repairs and recall on you… This would be a good thing, would it not? Yeah, I think some of the industries would agree with that.

John Blyler: So it would suggest that what we’ll end up with is a very standardized sort of vehicle, and the differentiation will then be with what’s inside the vehicle. I mean, I would think that major car manufacturers might be a bit worried about that, but that would be one way to ensure a level of safety—universal safety, I guess.

Bill Chown: That’s one of the things that was coming out in this session this week, the fact that as we go down this path toward autonomous vehicles… How much utilization do vehicles get today? It’s a fragment of a percent. And so, how much utilization could vehicles be getting if they’re automated in such a way that they can go off and serve the purposes of multiple users rather than one user?

Does that mean the car industry is suddenly going to sell in order to maybe choose less vehicles? Well, maybe it does.

I was wondering, “Does this mean the bus industry is going to go away?” Because if there’s a whole bunch of cars that can randomly come around the street and I can hail a car with my cell phone app and it will just come to me the moment I need it, rather than waiting at the bus stop for a bus, and it’ll take me exactly where I want to go, as opposed to somewhere near.

Is this going to change the bus industry more than it changes the car industry? I think a lot of people will take a very long time to give up their personal cars.

There was a suggestion in the meeting today: Maybe you’ll own personal car ’cause you use it a lot. And if you want something fancy, the SUV to go away for the weekend, you’ll hire one.

I’m inclined to think it’ll be the other way around. I might want to own the Tesla, because it’s a fancy vehicle, but the routine little Google car that takes me to work every day is one in a pool of a billion Google cars swimming around there. If I can just summon it with a click…

Derwyn Harris: There are lots of parallel disruptions taking place in the marketplace right now. In Portland, we’ve got multiple car sharing companies: Car2Go, Zipcar, Getaround, RelayRides, plus rider apps like Uber and Lyft. All of a sudden, so many options. I actually was going to sign up my car where you get an auto lock and you can rent out your own car.

But what’s interesting is not only the convergence of auto autonomous capabilities but the mindset of the public. It’s just all kind of coming together to create a new transportation model of the future that begs the question of buses and trains, you know.

Bill Chown: All these other mechanisms we’ve got used to. Are they going to be the way that’s going to work or over time?

Derwyn Harris: Which is bittersweet for me, because I’m a huge fan of trains. But you have to acknowledge the fact that the infrastructure’s there for automobiles. And if it can be made efficient and be made to act like a train, then that’s even better.

Bill Chown: It’s almost like, “Why would I need these other mechanisms?” So you can see in a big city where there’s a lot of commute traffic going on, if I can make that more fluid and more efficient, the existing mechanisms may no longer be relevant.

Derwyn Harris: Right.

Bill Chown: Long haul: I’m not sure I want a car to drive me all the way to Chicago. I probably want to take the train in favor of that.

Derwyn Harris: Yes. But imagine if the car was shaped differently, if it was more of a box with couches facing each other and a bar, and you can enjoy a drink safely.

Bill Chown: And if it’s a different speed, then maybe I might be more interested. Yes.

John Blyler: Well, adding to that, the flying car which, you know, looks to be here before too long, right?

Derwyn Harris: And the high-speed vacuum tubes.

John Blyler: Yes, we’ll have the tubes.

Bill Chown: The Jetsons’ car is coming after all.

Bill Chown: There’s certainly a lot of changes that are coming in automotive. And I think we’re going to see automotive triggering other changes in other things.

The IoT question: What kind of things belong to a car? Does the car need an app system built into it? Well, probably not, ‘cause everyone’s got one in their cell phone now. So why do I need another one in the car? And by the way, it’s out of date.

People listen to satellite radio in their cars, but they probably don’t have that in their phone or in their homes. So is that something that just fits in the shop opportunity that’s there for the moment?

It’s going to go away. Maybe there are going to be other businesses that are going to go away, because their opportunity has passed them by. I think there’s going to be a lot of things that we’re going to find ourselves doing, that we haven’t yet envisaged.

Derwyn Harris: Yeah. Probably the one thing that you can’t bring into the car would be the comfort of the car itself, right, but you’re allowed to take a—you could take naps now.

John Blyler: Hot tub.

Bill Chown: If I’m on a long trip, I might value some of those other things. Like I certainly would value a hot tub in an airplane if I wanted to on a flight.

John Blyler: Not take off or landing, but…

Bill Chown: Comfort in a car is still prejudiced by the fact that this thing’s designed to get you in and out and take you somewhere.

Derwyn Harris: Seat belts and all that. Yeah.

Bill Chown: Yeah. You see some of the new images that are being promoted, and, well, okay. Maybe I won’t need seat belts, because the probability of my car doing anything that will cause me to need that seat belt is gone to zero, because it’s so well automated, it’s never going to hit anything and nothing’s going to hit it.

Derwyn Harris: Yeah. So that sort of highlights the fact that there’s these milestones that we’ll have to cross, such as people feeling safer, or these guarantees of safety. And if the number does go down to zero or some minimal number, then all of a sudden, those regulations that existed will get a wash, like the seat belt. And that’s when a whole next revolution will happen.

Bill Chown: I hadn’t really thought that one through. So now…

John Blyler: Right now we’re in a stage where we realize that there’s really multi-disciplines and that systems engineering can bring something to the equation, can help the domain-specific engineers relate to a higher level of need.

There needs to be a social kind of engineer or an app engineer—someone who’s thinking about how this fits into the infrastructure, which is still a systems engineer, but it’s suggesting an engineer that’s not confined to a cubicle writing code, but someone that has other skills.

Bill Chown: Yeah, I would argue we’ve had to have some of that for a long time. When things are successful, they’ve have taken into account the environment into which they’re going to be applied. It’s going to keep on changing, and it’s going to keep on growing.

That’s going to be more and more significant—not only how well does this thing do the job I expect it to do, but how attractive is it in doing that job to the user, not necessarily cosmetically, but in use case. How “friendly” is this thing to me? How easy is it for me to turn my car into a comfort lounge?

I watched a video from one of the car manufacturers playing “Baby, You Can Drive My Car” in the background. And there’s no seat belts and the kid’s sitting up there leaning on the steering wheel, which is of course, totally non-functional, ‘cause it’s off. But it’s there for cosmetic purposes in the car. And they were just cruising along, having a comfortable family time, in this nice cocoon that’s going somewhere.

John Blyler: Right, right.

Bill Chown: And it looks very, very exciting and attractive.

John Blyler: Yeah.

Bill Chown: But it takes away a whole lot of the thought processes that have been applicable up ‘til now.

John Blyler: It takes away the thought processes?

Bill Chown: Well, I’ve been thinking about a car. We’ve been adding…

John Blyler: Oh, for the consumer. Yes.

Bill Chown: We’ve been adding seat belts. We’ve been adding this, that, and the other, passive constraints, lean control and things, which are helping the driver not to go wrong.

John Blyler: Right.

Bill Chown: We don’t need all those things if the car can’t go wrong, ‘cause we’ve now got it to the point where it’s sufficiently autonomous, that it gets past that point. But am I going to trust that thing? Well, I probably will, ‘cause I’m a technological person who thinks that I can believe in how that works.

John Blyler: Right. You’re good with math.

Bill Chown: It’s the average person that needs to figure out, “Yeah, I think this is good.”

Derwyn Harris: The dynamics in the team in building the cars will change significantly. I mean, cars have a life cycle right now. And the only time that people have to re-engage is when there’s a recall for a part. And it’s usually the vendor that has to deal with that recall potentially.

But going forward, they become more like moving software systems. And so a team… It becomes like software, where there’s multiple releases of that software. And so a team exists to update that software and modify it. I mean, the Tesla’s sort of has this.

Bill Chown: Tesla’s got that and Volvo’s got that.

Derwyn Harris: Yeah.

Bill Chown: You get overnight updates, and the next morning, you find there’s a new gadget in your car that you didn’t have yesterday.

Derwyn Harris: Yeah. There used to be these versions of cars, now there’s a component sitting out there driving around, and you’re able to, as a team, update it and modify it and adjust it on-going. So the whole cycle might change from what it is today.

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