Software bugs and security gaps

Control units are indispensable in modern vehicle construction. Yet before they are installed, the professionals from the testing department at Da Vinci Engineering examine their weak points.

Professionals know that up to 130 control units are installed in modern vehicles. They are indispensable in cars these days. And they always have to do more: control functions, receive data, send commands. Manufacturers specify to their suppliers precisely what these functions have to do. Their software professionals program the control units. Up to 100 million lines of code can be found in the control units of the latest vehicles. Since the software developers are spread across the world, inefficiencies are unavoidable. Expert organisation Dekra for instance suspects that 89 % of all product recalls from manufacturers are due to software errors.

Extensive software testing is essential

This is why OEMs have electronics tested by Da Vinci Engineering before installing a control unit in series production. The computer scientists and engineers from the engineering service provider from Stuttgart currently check the properties of a component that must satisfy up to 20,000 individual requirements. It transmits vehicle data to the manufacturer, among other things. The underlying idea is to actively inform customers and the workshop about a car’s technical status. With many vehicles, it’s already possible to use an app to query their location, tank capacity, electrical range or next service date. If a service is due, the workshop already knows which repairs are to be made and which parts it has to order.

Enormous requirements placed on control units and their software

However, the owner of the vehicle should also be informed if the vehicle system detects problems that are not yet dramatic but could result in a system failure in the medium term. A low battery status, for example. This gives managers of rental or company cars for example an overview of the technical status of their fleet, enabling them to act in good time. By customers going to the workshop beforehand and on the agreed date, unplanned pit stops should be avoided.

It is also expected that a master control unit can update all others without the vehicle being docked to a diagnostics device. Since practically every modern car has an online connection, software updates can be imported over the air. Furthermore, the manufacturer can activate new functions via online transmission or optimise existing vehicle assistants. How sensitively cruise control responds or from which distance collision warning becomes active, for example. In other words, the requirements placed on the control unit and its software are huge.

The professionals from Da Vinci Engineering accompany its entire development. Where is the problem and does the imported software actually do what it’s supposed to? The engineers usually discover problems in the early development stages. They also intervene if the component does not meet all standards or if the manufacturer’s specifications do not cover all eventualities.

Exploit the advantage of simulation

Using the information available, the experts from Da Vinci Engineering write their test specifications – usually two years before a new series is rolled out. They also develop tests for the control units. All driving situations are simulated on the test stand, and the software must always work perfectly: in hot weather and in extreme cold, at a standstill or at top speed. All test results are documented, evaluated and submitted to the OEM.

Since programming is never actually completed, the testers from Da Vinci Engineering usually receive an update every four weeks. They then have to decide whether the test automation has to be extended, or whether entirely new test procedures are required. Patience, perseverance and meticulous care are required but they pay off. Determination to uncover every single error requires a penchant for perfectionism and the professionals from Da Vinci Engineering have precisely these qualities. The OEMs appreciate this tenacity: they have endorsed the testing of control units for the third generation of vehicles to the experts from Stuttgart

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