Playing It Safe: Streamlining Compliance With Automotive Regulations

Trevor Smith | April 21, 2017

As a child and then an adult during the great age of Sunday morning cartoons, I was especially taken with two shows that depicted the opposite ends of human development: The Flintstones and The Jetsons. The heroes both had spouses, children and pets, but while Fred Flintstone had to travel the streets of Bedrock powering his vehicle with his own two feet, George Jetson whizzed around space in his personal space capsule.

In recent years, technological advancements in the automotive industry have pushed us closer and closer to driving the vehicles of the future, where the modes of transportation in The Jetsons may someday become reality. But with the rapid pace of development in the automotive industry comes a host of problems related to safety, system compliance and consistency, which remind us that as engineers we still need to stay grounded.

Automotive companies such as Tesla (and even tech giants like Google) are leading the charge in developing autonomous vehicles, generating dozens of new headlines with each software rollout or press release. For design teams working on these vehicles, the task of merging complex, ever-changing software with the rigid confines of an automobile’s hardware has become increasingly complicated.

Developing autonomous vehicles presents multiple challenges for engineers and developers. For one thing, it’s a highly uncharted and heavily scrutinized field. With the cost of failure being injury, or even death, automotive manufactures must ensure that any new technology or tool implemented throughout the design process will not result in a catastrophic result. The National Highway Transportation Safety Agency recently published its Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, providing a list of 15 areas that organizations wishing to develop an autonomous vehicle must comply with before it can even be considered road-legal.

Standards, such as ISO 26262, are not necessarily new to the automotive industry, but have since become more broadly applicable given the fluid and dynamic state automotive development. ISO 26262 provides a system of steps for managing functional safety and regulating product development on the system, hardware and software levels. The standard provides guidelines and recommendations throughout the development process of an automobile, from conceptual development through decommissioning. During each phase of development, ISO 26262 requires that certain risk levels be placed on a system or component, as well as the overall test process, to ensure safety and system compatibility.

Automotive manufacturers have begun integrating new development tools and technologies in their design processes to further evolve how teams are aligned, ensure they are building the right products and to verify the functional safety of what they design. Product development software has proven itself to be a key tool in predicting single point of failure, while also highlighting the impact of specific changes on the product in the long run. New software platforms have integrated ISO 26262 and other compliance standards and regulations in their own verification and validation kits, preventing mistakes and providing evidence to assist in meeting functional safety standards.

Regulations and standards within the automotive industry are not new things, and the criteria for compliance among developers will only increase as advancements in autonomous vehicle technology increases. While we’re likely decades away from owning the personal spaceships depicted in The Jetsons, the rapid pace of development in the automotive industry makes such a future seem less like fiction. For automotive engineers and developers, it’s important to use modern tools to ensure system compliance between the hardware and software systems in an automobile. Doing so will reduce costs, ensure compliance and reduce the risk to human life as we steer toward the future.

For more on the standards impacting tractability, risk management, validation and verification, read our paper on ISO 26262 & Automotive Electronics Development.