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Connected Cars Driving Force for Quality Assurance

Connected Cars Driving Force for Quality Assurance

The growing consumer desire for connected cars has led to a paradigm shift in demand expectation and connectivity is no longer a feature reserved for the luxury end of the market.  

Today more and more consumers expect access to phones and digital music to be standard in their automobiles. Entire families now want to remain connected to the Internet throughout their journey for instant access to information like traffic and weather updates, local restaurants, nearby parking garages and entertainment for their kids.

The growing consumer desire for connected cars has led to a paradigm shift in demand expectation and connectivity is no longer a feature reserved for the luxury end of the market.  In fact, according to recent findings from Autotrader’s 2015 In-Vehicle Technology Shopper Influence Study, over 75% of consumers say technology features matter more than color.

Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at Edmunds, says record new-vehicle sales are an indication automakers are giving consumers what they want: safer, more fuel-efficient and technologically packed vehicles.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that over the next five years the number of connected cars on the road is predicted to rise significantly. Gartner forecasts one in five vehicles on the road will have some degree of wireless connectivity by 2020, amounting to more than a quarter-billion connected vehicles worldwide.

Connected cars were featured at this year’s Mobile World Congress, where it was predicted there could be as many as 44 million autonomous and state-of-the-art connected cars on the roads by 2030.

While these numbers are impressive, they also carry a strong message for the automotive industry to future-proof its manufacturing processes to manage complexities and increased production quantities associated with rising consumer demand for next-generation connected cars.

The proliferation of vehicle connectivity will be led by improvements in the major functional areas of telematics, automated driving, infotainment and mobility services. Building these sophisticated computers on wheels brings significant challenges for automakers, particularly the importance of implementing more stringent quality measures to eliminate avoidable errors throughout the manufacturing process, as well as the potential for irreparable brand damage.

Some of these challenges include:

  • Optimization of process integration and quality throughout the supply chain.
  • Seamless integration of technologies from multiple suppliers that provide components for a common platform.
  • Shortened design cycles, driven by the need for more options and variants in the global markets, resulting in more iterations to produce and pick from.
  • Working with millions of lines of software code with hardware integrated from multiple suppliers.
  • High cost of post-production bug fixes and warranty claims.
  • Ensuring brand reputation and consumer trust is maintained during the process of continuous innovation.

And, of course, there is the skills shortage. Because more sophisticated cars require more skilled engineers, manufacturers must deal with lower-skilled resources coming up to speed on the job as technology is defined or invented. This further underlines the need for stringent quality assurance to prevent engineers from making avoidable mistakes and eroding customer trust.

As the technology that supports the manufacturing process becomes more agile, complex and mobile, manufacturers must remain diligent with their implementation of continuous improvement initiatives to safely meet changing customer demands.

Some of these initiatives include:

  • Protection against security vulnerabilities: A properly defined misbehavior authority and integration system that is well-tested with all the integrations and communication technologies (including security breaches) is critical. A security credential validation and management system can enforce the deployment of proper security best practices.
  • Energy Efficiency: One of the key benefits of the connected car is its potential to bring fuel economies as well as more insight into the fuel-consumption patterns of drivers. A properly defined algorithm to identify fuel consumption that is well-tested in all scenarios can support these benefits.
  • Over-the-Air Software Upgrade: A well-defined process for upgrading software over the air will not only help to manage costs, but will soon be a prerequisite for customer satisfaction. In order to derive the anticipated benefits, appropriate testing must be done to make sure the current feature works properly so any software upgrade will also work without issue.
  • Driver Well-Being: Strongly related to the aspect of safety, the mega trend for health drives a demand for across-the-board safety features. For example, the ability to define driver fatigue and provide anti-fatigue solutions must be well-tested in order to derive the required safety benefit.
  • Personalized Experience: In today’s world, there is increasing emphasis on personalization, customization and friendliness. This requires the car to have a highly defined system of self-learning that is well-tested with integrations such as mobile phone, car key or voice recognition.

The interest and demand for car sharing is growing – particularly in urban environments where people (especially young drivers and non-car owners) want convenient, cost-efficient mobility and car access.

One OEM car-sharing service was piloted in Q4 2011 to validate the car-sharing market in terms of business value and customer acceptance, as well as address the challenges of increasing international demand.

While automation added to the attractiveness of the OEM’s new mobility solution, it also increased the quality challenges. As part of the pilot project, it was critical to have a dedicated team responsible for quality management; requirements management; test management, execution and reporting; defect management; and integration testing for in-car to backend systems.

During the performance of those tasks, two key types of challenges emerged:

  • Organizational challenges: For the most part, this was a cultural difference between engineers accustomed to building cars in fixed, highly matured processes and “artists¨ who prefer to design, develop and test in an Agile environment. With a test manager well-versed in both Agile and the embedded world, the quality team was able to enhance communications and implement more of the Agile testing best practices.
  • Technical challenges: The scope and depth of testing in cars that transmit computerized data over long distances (telematics) gives rise to numerous quality assurance challenges such as the design and implementation of end-to-end tests for varying models, regions, markets and service providers; the need to test a higher number of possible combinations; and the challenges of functional testing on the vehicles in test centers to ensure acceptable KPI’s.

Due to increases in government regulations and the high cost of non-compliance penalties, QA standards become all the more important. Regulation can be both a serious barrier as well as a driver for the uptake of innovative technologies.

For example, Europe’s eCall system, an integrated telecommunication solution that provides assistance for serious accidents, is now mandatory for new cars. Vehicles must have the ability to inform ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) even in areas of poor cellular signal availability or no signal over any cellular network (4G, 3G, GPRS, Wi-Fi or others).

In the U.S., research in this area is ongoing and regulations and standards are still evolving.

For example, according to NHTSA, vehicle-to-vehicle crash avoidance technology has the potential to significantly reduce the number of crashes. Recent research from the U.S. Department of Transportation also suggests V2V can prevent the majority of crashes involving two or three vehicles. The USDOT has stated cars with V2V will use only basic safety data rather than exchanging or recording personal information of drivers or tracking vehicle movements.

It is up to every automaker to take the appropriate quality measures and ready itself to achieve the expected increase in production levels, stay competitive and safely meet the changing demands of today’s sophisticated consumer.

M.S. Subramanian is director-Connected Car, India, for software specialist SQS.

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