Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bringing safety assurance to automotive instrument clusters

Guest post by Chris Giordano, director of global business and software support, DiSTI Corporation

Digital instrument clusters in automobiles are here and almost any aviator could tell you this change was coming. Since the 1970s pilots have benefited from the use of digital screens in the cockpit to depict and convey aircraft status information.

The technology came as a response to the growing number of elements that were competing for space within the cockpit and for the pilot’s attention. What was needed was a way to process the raw aircraft system and flight data into an easy-to-understand picture of the aircraft’s situation: position, orientation, altitude, speed. Engineers at NASA Langley Research Center teamed with industry partners to develop the display concepts that would become the foundation of today’s primary flight displays (PFD).

Notional example of a primary flight display

By the early 1980s, as software continued to replace the functionality found in hardware components, certification had become more complicated. Potential flaws could be prevalent in both the hardware and the software. To alleviate this problem, standards for software development for aircraft systems emerged. In the U.S., DO-178 became the standard and the Europeans ratified the ED-12 equivalent. These standards not only took a logical assessment and validation of the input and output of a system, but dove further into the development cycle to prove that procedures were in place to prevent and minimize risk of a system failure. As a result, whenever a passenger walks down the jetway and onto their flight, these software standards help ensure they arrive safely.

In the past decade the automotive industry has progressed through a similar expansion in software use. Today, electronics and software drive 90% of all innovation. Electronics and software also determine up to 40% of the vehicle’s development costs. Anywhere from 50% to 70% of the development costs for an Electronic Control Unit (ECU) are related to software (Challenges in Automotive Software Engineering, Manfred Broy, Institut für Informatik Technische Universität München, 2006). New vehicles are monitoring complex engines, providing route guidance, communicating with other networks, avoiding accidents, and serving up media. Each new feature adds to system complexity, furthering the need to use software development best practices in order to avoid a big bowl of spaghetti code.

Notional example of an advanced instrument cluster start-up system check

The need for safety becomes more prevalent in the embedded system software as graphics-based instrument clusters continue to replace traditional analog-based gauge clusters. Enter the ISO 26262 standard for functional safety of electrical and electronic components in production passenger vehicles. Formally released in November 2011, the standard establishes the state-of-the-art for the automotive industry and assures the functional safety of these systems.

By using the QNX Neutrino OS and the DiSTI GL Studio toolkit, a development team can reduce the time and effort required to certify their solution to the automotive ISO 26262 functional safety standard up to Automotive Safety Integrity Level D (ASIL D), the highest classification of safety criticality defined by the ISO 26262 standard. This compliance allows automakers and Tier 1s to use this solution to meet safety certification requirements within the scope they choose.

This QNX Neutrino OS and DiSTI GL Studio solution will be on display at this year’s TU-Automotive Detroit. Check it out in the QNX booth, #C92 and the DiSTI booth, #A21.

Visit the DiSTI blog here.

Chris Giordano has been developing and supporting commercial HMI software for over 16 years and has been the lead engineer or program manager for 58 different visual programs at The DiSTI Corporation. Currently, Chris manages DiSTI’s Global Business and Software Support and is the program manager for several automotive OEM and Tier 1 supplier companies that utilize DiSTI’s GL Studio for their HMI development efforts. Chris worked very closely with the team at DiSTI that took GL Studio through the ISO 26262 certification process.

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