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GM Secures Supplier Ecosystem with Coding Standards

As many cars become more electronics than mechanics, automotive OEMs are leveraging software and connected services to achieve their design goals. Those efforts put functional safety, security, and standards compliance throughout the supply chain high on the list of requirements. General Motors (GM) has worked with LRDA, a vendor that focuses on automated software compliance and verification, to implement new technology for software component verification and validation. 

“Because drivers and passengers alike are dependent on increasingly sophisticated electronics for vehicle performance, driver assistance, infotainment, and other advanced capabilities, car manufacturers have stepped up demands that suppliers deliver software that will function safely and without security vulnerabilities,” said Steve Hoffenberg, director and industry analyst for IoT and Embedded Technology at VDC Research. “Software developers face the challenge of adhering to industry standards while meeting the tight deadlines of a multi-tiered supply chain.”

Increasing complexity has translated into costly and complicated automotive recalls and fears of automotive system hacking. In 2017, there were 899 recalls which affected more than 43 million cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That figure was dwarfed by the previous year that saw 1,036 recalls that impacted nearly 79 million vehicles.  Worse, system failures can readily translate into consumer injuries and even death. 

GM, for example, starting in February 2014, was involved in a significant recall associated with faulty ignition switches, which was initially thought to impact 800,000 vehicles but ultimately led to the recall of more than 30 million cars.  The faulty switches may have been related to as many as 114 deaths. 

In light of these problems, GM began rolling out a more rigorous software development process to its suppliers. “Fundamentally, the whole thing we are talking a about is helping GM’s supplier community address the need for functional safety and security standards,” said Jim McElroy, vice president of LRDA. “GM, to its credit, decided to get its suppliers in line in terms of how they develop, maintain, and test software.”

GM's Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

GM's Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison

The automotive industry, with its historically mechanical expertise, relies heavily on external suppliers for hardware and software development that they don’t have in-house. This includes a broad range of systems ranging from multimedia and infotainment to powertrain and body electronics. “The global supply chain, from a hardware and software perspective is so complex that OEMs can’t cope with it,” McElroy said. “Other automotive makers are starting down this road, but GM has a leadership role in the U.S.” 

By helping its suppliers verify software components in more consistent ways, the company hopes to improve overall quality substantially. To that end, the company has developed coding standards that will be used throughout the supply chain. By adhering to the standards, suppliers more easily and cost-effectively develop software by automating the process of compliance with coding standards in ways that are appropriate for the end user applications involved. 

“Because automotive OEMs recognize that safety and security are tightly coupled, they are applying pressure on software suppliers to adhere to strict development standards,” said Ian Hennell, operations director at LDRA. “The big-picture challenge for all suppliers is to do this in a cost-effective manner. By automating the compliance process according to GM’s guidelines, we can ensure that suppliers have a cost-effective way to address GM’s safety and security requirements.” 

Depending on the type of system, different coding languages and approaches are used so creating standards has become a daunting yet necessary task. “The LDRA tool suite automates and simplifies the process of software quality analysis and verification in each of these domains and as a result, reduces the qualification time frame and effort while reducing risk and cost,” LRDA said. For instance, multimedia and infotainment applications such as GPS, in-vehicle connectivity, back-up cameras, and security systems, are dynamic in nature and rely on advanced software development languages, like C/C++ and Java. Powertrain and body electronics applications, which are more static and safety critical, typically use the C programming language.

Coding standards also ensure that developers meet industry standards, which change depending on the application and target market. They include:

  • AUTOSAR, an open and standardized software architecture for automotive electronic control units (ECUs)
  • SAE J3061, an engineering process for designing and building cybersecurity into vehicle systems
  • ISO 26262, an international standard for functional safety in electronic systems in vehicles
  • MISRA, a set of software development coding standard for the C programming language that safety, security, portability, and reliability

This collaboration between GM and LRDA points to a path forward in the face of increasingly complexity. “We have a global supply chain,” said McElroy. “We have to get smart about how that global supply chain creates software.”

— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN Circle me on Google+ Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn page Friend me on Facebook

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