Chasing Reliability In Automotive Electronics

Assuring reliability in automotive electronics has set off a scramble across the semiconductor supply chain and unearthed a list of issues for which there is insufficient data, a lack of well-defined standards, and inconsistent levels of expertise.

Reliable functional safety that spans 18 to 20 years of service in harsh environments, or under constant use with autonomous taxis or trucks, is a massive undertaking that will require engineering advances in areas such as artificial intelligence, LiDAR, radar, and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. And it will require management of a global supply chain that is populated by startups, chipmakers with no automotive experience, and automotive suppliers with little experience in advanced electronics.

At this point no one knows exactly how reliable a 7nm AI system will be, or how effectively it will fail over to another system in case of a malfunction. In fact, no one is even sure what are the right questions to ask during testing. Communication among all the suppliers up and down the supply chain has to be clear and open, yet some suppliers protect their IP by withholding important data, leaving car manufacturers to discover some data for themselves. To make matters worse, the rules for pulling all of this together are spotty, at best.

“At this time, there is no generally agreed upon technical strategy for validating the safety of the nonconventional software aspects of these vehicles,” wrote Carnegie Mellon University’s Philip Koopman and Edge Case Research’s Michael Wagner, in a 2018 paper presented at the 2018 SAE World Congress. “It seems that many HAVs will be deployed as soon as development teams think their vehicles are ready—and then they will see how things work out on public roads. Even if pilot deployments yield acceptably low mishap rates, there is still the question of whether a limited scale deployment will accurately forecast the safety of much larger scale deployments and accompanying future software updates.”

The lack of governmental regulations on self-driving cars leaves the consumer at the mercy of a competitive, nascent autonomous vehicle (AV) industry. But these industries have a lot to lose if they fail. That economic threat combined with the continuing evolution of the ISO 26262 standard, may be the saving grace. ISO 26262 requires tracking all materials and parts at all points in procurement and manufacturing, setting the stage for a culture of safety behavior and cooperation among suppliers. A post-mortem diagnosis of failure looks like an aeronautical investigation. It almost goes without saying that the testing and tracking process is more expensive for safety-critical systems especially, whereas reliability and good quality are still important selling points for non-safety critical systems, like infotainment.