“Safe Software” Now The Table Stakes For Suppliers To Electric Vehicles
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In 2021, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHT

SA) essentially reopened a 2017 investigation into the continuing and numerous fire incidents involving electric vehicles. Amongst other aspects, the investigation will include the roles of battery management systems, operating systems, system diagnostics, failure prognostics, cybersecurity and overall intervention; all of which are (pardon the pun) driven by software.

Subsequently, the marketplace has changed significantly. Insurance underwriters have noted the risks of functional safety and cybersecurity, manufacturers have increased their due diligence and table stakes for any supplier is proof of engineering rigor. “After ‘What is your name and how are you doing’, the first questions these days are ‘What is your functional safety level and Automotive SPICE capability?'” states Dr. Umuet Genc, Chief Executive Officer of Eatron, a producer of connected management system software, including battery management systems. “And after that whole conversation they make it to algorithms, because if you don’t have these standards in place, what you have is only an exciting demonstration. Manufacturers and Tier 1’s need solutions – not demo’s – to include in their 2023 or 2024 models. They want to be sure that you’re a partner for series production; not just for advanced engineering or concepts.”

“The Product Liability Insurance market has climbed significantly in the past few years,” explains an insurance brokerage executive that connects corporations and underwriters. “Due to a lack of historical data on many of these providers of electric and/or autonomous systems and software, underwriters cannot easily extrapolate as to the risk of insuring a company.”

As expected, understanding and unearthing the almighty dollar uncovers a shift in behavior. “There absolutely has been a culture change,” Genc injects firmly. “I have been in automotive since 1998, and it used to be entirely about fuel economy and emissions. In the past ten years, the safety culture has really transformed; maybe because electric vehicles have us sitting near 800 or 1000V. As an automotive engineer, I see that mentality shifted because we had to: there’s no way to include all of this technology without talking about safety.”

“Our customers, OEMs and suppliers, have not only asked for a small footprint, enabling a heterogeneous supply-chain and flexible ecosystem, but have especially required bringing automotive grade quality for safety and reliability,” confirms RTI’s Director of Automotive, Pedro Lopez Estepa.

Achieving the ultimate goal of sufficient safety for our collective grandmothers and children seems to the non-automotive bystander as an obvious must, but global resources have been an issue. “The industry-wide, key problem is the lack of expertise in functional safety and engineering quality standards like Automotive SPICE. And so more often what we see are customers’ Safety Goals being half-complete. Software suppliers like us need the complete functional safety concept since the systems engineering decomposes to software requirements. And so when a manufacturer has four or five experts trying to support twenty programs, that becomes a bottleneck.”

“As the final systems integrator, the vehicle manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the safety context, which can change during a vehicle’s development and from generation to generation,” asserts Lopez Estepa. “If we create a solution that forces the manufacturers into a closed ecosystem, we would be creating a lot of liability and switchover costs. It requires a lot of expertise to create a modular communications framework of the highest level of safety (ASIL-D) out of context, but there are many shades of gray between today’s context, and Level 5 autonomous, electric vehicles driving in an urban environment.”

These scarce resources frequently translate to programmatic delays that either result in delayed launches, skipped testing or compromises in rigor, all of which impact profit and liability.

Both Genc and Estepa describe the supplier’s ongoing challenge: helping to lead the customer along by asking the insightful questions, bringing the safety expertise and driving the discussion. “As a software technology for automotive mass-production, whatever intelligence we bring will not go into mass production if it doesn’t comply with safety and quality standards,” states Genc. “Customers like the fact that we can question, push and motivate them as a catalyst; internally prioritizing their work by bringing a proficiency that they are struggling to find.”

In the end, safety now is ironically not only the first question as the door opens, but the ongoing questions that keep the door ajar.

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