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December 24, 2020

Get ready for test driving your connected vehicle

An urban legend talks about a story of one Mr. Fred in the '70s, who once complained to Ford about his vehicle not starting when he goes out in the evening to buy vanilla-flavored ice cream but works fine when he buys any other flavor. The vehicle was not field-tested for fuel vapor issues in cold engines.

Since then, the automobile industry has grown considerably, relying on computers and data more than ever. The newer vehicles come connected out of the box. With an average of 600 pages of the user manual and another 300 pages of supplemental infotainment manuals, it is indeed getting exponentially complex with each generation. It is estimated that the current modern automobiles have around 100 million lines of code and it may be more than 300 million lines of code in the next decade. To put it in perspective, a commercial aircraft has around 15 million lines of code!

Over the past decade, the customer shift has moved from vehicle reliability to the overall experience of the vehicle. Engine refinements have reached a level where almost all the leading OEMs deliver reliability. The focus is now more towards the cockpit design, intuitive, informative yet simple meters and HU consoles, and more tightly integrated human-vehicle connection as if the vehicle is an extension of the driver's personality. The advent of artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented realities, hardware-agnostic software architecture (SDAs), versatile, intelligent, and powerful sensors and ECUs, etc., need to be foolproof than ever before. This has started becoming visible in some of the recent JD Power IQS and other leading industry surveys. All this adds a tremendous need for multiple user-friendly services on the vehicle, huge but efficient bandwidth requirements, futureproofing the platform's flexibility to launch new services, and a very strong backend servicing millions of multi-generational vehicles in real-time. All this while, ensuring safety, convenience, and comfort.

Vehicle drive testing has become an integral and important factor in the current automobile industry. The infotainment/connected features drive tests critically augment the manual and automated tests that the vehicle undergoes in the lab and on test benches. In simple terms, drive tests incorporate extensive tests of the vehicle in the field. Mechanically, the vehicles get tested in the test labs and test track simulating terrains and environmental conditions. However, testing connected services of modern vehicles become tricky. The accuracy of ever-changing demographics data, GPS data, readings from infrastructure and vehicle, user inputs, being situational aware with no room for error are some of the very few variables that a vehicle must understand, process, and act with multiple fail-safe systems in the place. The biggest variable in ensuring the safety and comfort of those inside and outside of the vehicle is human behavior. Mathematically modeling human behavior and action is still an evolving subject and to ensure that man and the machine work synchronously to each other makes drive test one of the utmost safety requirement.

Look out for the next part which will talk about the various strategies employed for the drive tests.

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