The Need For Agile Testing

Online Editor

Making the test process leaner forms part of a larger development picture, as James Hayes finds out

In a recent study published by one of the EU’s policy departments, entitled The Future of the EU Automotive Sector, the outlook is studied with an emphasis on future competitiveness across the whole industry. As the automotive sector accounts for 6% of total EU employment and 7% of the EU’s GDP, the transition challenges the industry faces with greening and digitalisation may have a major impact on the region. This at a time when the global competition from both new entrants and existing companies from Asia and North America is intensifying.

Pre-Covid, the electric vehicle hype was only eye-catching in the Asian region with China in the lead due to its government-backed New Energy Vehicle strategy. During the pandemic, however, there has been a significant shift in car consumers’ buying patterns towards electric vehicles and some figures suggest that 2020 may well represent a tipping point in the adoption of EVs. That was the year when Europe overtook China as the biggest EV market, and this is expected to continue with a double-digit market share when the figures are in for 2021.

With the EU planning for continued updates of its regulatory framework, with a further expected reduction of CO2 emission levels by 55% by 2030 and 100% by 2035 compared with 2021 levels, the automotive industry is being ushered in the direction of electrification, whether that means batteries, fuel cells or other alternative, novel energy storage technologies. Although the EU study criticises the current innovation level and transition speed of the industry, the ambition to change in this direction is clearly noted, with the sharp increase in numbers of electrified vehicles due to be launched in the coming years expected to reach more than 250 by 2025.

With a landscape of challenges in every direction, OEMs must make strategic decisions on navigating it to maintain and enhance competitiveness. In the EU, the automotive sector is by far the biggest for R&D spending. However, the spending related to information and communication technologies (ICT) R&D is relatively low in comparison with the Asian and North American region. This is a sector expected to grow exponentially in the coming years due to the increase in complexity created by driver assistance systems and sensor technology.

With the introduction of more technology into the vehicle, not only does the vehicle itself become more complex, but the consumer experience is also changing to become more software-oriented. With this follows expectations of software functionality and trouble-free access to updates, in particular OTA (over-the-air) updates. This confronts a completely different aspect of the industry – the development methodology. While the current V model, or Verification and Validation model, has successfully served the automotive industry for almost half a century with its rigorous project management, it is now being contested by an alternative approach – Agile methodology.

Agile is not a new methodology, as it has been practised in the software industry for more than two decades, but it has one major differentiator – it builds on the idea that everything changes, even targets. This means one must adapt to smaller, but continuous, improvements.

The test solution provider Rototest has been working in the automotive field for over 30 years and is very familiar with the V model and how its dynamometer technology fits into the process steps of integration and system testing. In recent years, the company has expanded its global partner network to offer solutions covering not only complete test cells but also full semi-virtual testing environments suited to the development of advanced driving assistance systems, or ADAS.

The management-consulting firm McKinsey, which regularly covers the progress of the automotive industry, has predicted that software complexity will likely triple over the next 10 years. However, the productivity is not increasing at a rate that can sustain innovation, which is why software development must become more streamlined.

The Rototest test solutions are designed for efficient development regardless of methodology. With a flexible design and open interfaces, testing capability can be dynamically adjusted to align with vehicle project needs. The ability to integrate with existing testing and modelling tools, while supporting replication of real driving test manoeuvres (eg, through natural steering capability) makes Rototest’s solutions particularly well matched to the Tier 0.5/1s ADAS testing requirements of current and future OEMs. Customers report that time savings of up to 80% are achievable by switching calibration manoeuvres from road testing into the laboratory environment.

The powertrain dynamometer that is part of the firm’s test solutions not only offers ways to achieve huge time savings, it also offers unique features such as a floating installation that does not require anything more than a hard floor for setup. As there are no horizontal forces acting on the vehicle, ADAS testing of highly dynamic functionalities such as AEB (automatic emergency braking) and AES (automatic emergency steering) still provides a fully stable testing environment with a vehicle installation time of just minutes.

The fully floating solution delivers a unique capability of physical steering, so the vehicle may use its mechanical steering during testing. In combination with Rototest’s recently introduced patented steering force-feedback system, it presents a testing environment that gives the driver (or the AD domain control system) a natural steering feeling while driving – all without mechanical modification of the test vehicle.

As the EU study concludes, the organisation is committed to support its automotive industry through its transition to greater flexibility so as to regain competitiveness – a philosophy that suppliers of all tiers would do well to take note of.