Connectivity is this year’s must-have automotive add-on – but don’t compare it to alloy wheels or LED lights, because it shifts the whole industry into relatively unfamiliar territory, demanding a whole new testing strategy, according to John Pottle, Marketing Director at Spirent Positioning Technology.
Connectivity represents a paradigm shift for the automotive industry — imagine not only a safer and more efficient vehicle but one that enables live streaming video seamlessly showing on in-car screens and audio via the in-car audio system. As well as exciting new capabilities, connecting the car to the Internet and to other cars means a change in mindset for how to develop, test and verify technology, systems, services and applications.
The industry is already familiar with local and international standards; from emission levels to passenger safety and details such as the placing of vehicle lights. But conformance testing to wireless Wi-Fi and cellular standards is new for the automotive sector. Can you be sure that the wireless unit, whether WiFi or Cellular, in one vehicle will work not only with another unit of the same type but also different units in different vehicles? Can different RF signals co-exist without interfering with one-another and with increasingly sensitive vehicle systems? If future drivers start depending on a ‘WiFi brake light’, can you guarantee that it will register any foreign vehicle halted round the next bend?
Next are problems of security, already familiar to the IT world. Hacking of remote car locks is already an issue, but with connected vehicles comes the full potential for threats and attacks, whether malicious or inadvertent. Drivers are already so used to GPS that they feel lost without it. Imagine the chaos from a widespread virus attack in a fully connected car; might criminals create traffic jams to hinder police pursuit?
Thirdly, higher data rates in vehicles mean that existing in-vehicle networks are left wanting. Even without external connectivity, high data rate Ethernet will be deployed widely in vehicles in the near future. The jury is currently out on which network topologies and standards will predominate in future, but some rationalisation of the current CAN, MOST, FlexRay plus 2-wire Ethernet seems likely, with Ethernet forming the backbone data network in the vehicle. With increased data traffic and applications, the concept of Quality of Experience (or QoE) comes into play. QoE is a measure of the quality as perceived by the user and is defined in a precise and quantifiably measureable way. Test plans that stress the system, adding for example volumes of traffic and controlled, progressive error states, can determine QoE meets design criteria.
Manufacturers already devote time and expense to road and crash testing for increasingly stringent vehicle legislation. Ahead lies a whole new world of digital hazards and standards that the automotive industry is really now beginning to embrace and see the value of in the new connected era.
The good news is that test systems and approaches are already familiar and have been addressed in diverse vertical markets for two decades. My own company has been working with OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers not only to offer test hardware but also the test cases, traffic data and security threat modes to enable fast and simple testing — and we are already engaging with automotive related standards.