Software is driving automakers crazy. They need Service Virtualization.
The days of mechanically driven cars are long gone. Today, software does all the work, and automakers need help getting it right.
The days of mechanically driven cars are long gone. Today, software does all the work, and automakers need help getting it right.

Know what’s driving auto makers crazy these days? Software.

Last year saw the highest number of auto recalls in history: 51 million in nearly 900 separate actions. A lot of those, some 42 percent, were related to faulty Takata air bags. However, a sizable chunk of the rest were related to software issues — some 6.4 million vehicles in 63 recalls.

According to the 2016 Automotive Warranty and Recall Report, the problem of code glitches in cars has spiked — basically doubled — since 2012.

Automotive Warranty & Recall Report, 2016
Automotive Warranty & Recall Report, 2016

As the report notes, it’s a trend that we should all find alarming. After all, when your smartphone crashes or you can’t access a retail website to take advantage of a big sale, that’s an inconvenience. If the minivan carrying your family suffers a software meltdown, that’s life and death. In 2015, several fatalities and dozens of injuries resulted from software glitches in cars.

In just the past year, the report found:

  • Security experts hacked the entertainment system of a 2015 Jepp Cherokee. Potentially, such a hack could allow someone to disable your car.
  • Land Rover recalled 65,000 vehicles after the discovery of a glitch that could cause vehicle doors to fly open unexpectedly.
  • Nissan disabled an app after figuring out that hackers could download your driving log.
  • Volvo recalled 59,000 cars after a software fault caused some engines to stop and then restart while they were being driven.

Today, computers control far more than you think in a car. Software-driven components routinely control fuel mixture, braking, door locks, tire inflation, steering, electrical systems, air bag sensors and more. In 2011, only three automotive components involved in recalls. Last year, there were 20.

The study’s author, Neil Steinkamp, managing director at consulting firm SRR, concludes that software testing must be at the forefront of auto manufacturing interests in the years ahead.

“The struggle between feeding the consumer’s need for technologically advanced vehicles and making sure every part has been tested to its fullest will continue in this highly competitive industry. Manufacturers need to plan ahead so they can mitigate the damage caused by recalls on components that, no matter how technically advanced, might not perform as expected.

As automobiles become more complex, so do the regulatory and financial implications for the automotive industry. This report, and the additional analysis we continue to undertake, will provide insights to help the industry get a better view of the road ahead.”

Here’s another thought that Steinkamp doesn’t mention. The rising tide of software-related auto recalls needn’t be happening if carmakers invested more heavily in earlier and more-frequent testing of their systems.

Continuous delivery tools that integrate Service Virtualization are proven to help companies deliver better software faster. By providing what amounts to wind-tunnel testing for any software component, any type of company — automakers and everyone else — can test its apps under any imaginable scenario from the very first iteration. How?

Service Virtualization is the practice of capturing and simulating the behavior, data, and performance characteristics of dependent systems and then creating a virtual copy of those dependent systems. Those virtual copies, which behave precisely as a live system, can then be used independently of actual, live systems to develop software without any constraints.

Thus, software can be developed and deployed faster, with lower costs and higher quality.

Advice to automakers being driven crazy by software headaches: Check out Service Virtualization. As we’ve written, some cars today have more lines of code than jet fighters. The software isn’t going to test itself.