In times when automotive OEMs are looking to bring new car models faster to market and want to continuously provide software updates to customers, traditional hardware-in-the-loop-based development (HiL) and testing of automotive software can be slow and limited in scale. Many of the functional, safety and security issues can only be addressed when the physical ECUs are available.
A solution could be comprehensive tools for developers that enable automotive manufacturers and system suppliers to simulate, in the cloud, the performance of digital features and confirm compatibility across existing or new car lines prior to general hardware availability. This is important as, according to industry statistics cited by Continental, fixing issues in late stages of development can be 10 times or more expensive than catching them earlier.
Continental has been looking into this issue and its opportunities, and has expanded its tool box for automotive software development with its future virtual ECU Creator software (vECU Creator). This tool is designed to enable developers at vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and third parties to configure and run virtual cloud-based ECUs in their specific development environments to help develop code for micro-controller and processor hardware that does not yet exist.
The vECU Creator is part of the Continental Automotive Edge (CAEdge) framework, which runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS). By using cloud-based vECUs, new applications or software features for software-defined vehicles (SDV) can be built by OEMs in a more efficiently and agile way. The system is claimed to allow future developments to be tested and debugged continuously by engineers within the cloud, at the same time as hardware development and production cycles. The vECU Creator brings together Continental’s computers, and ECUs with Elektrobit’s software for Classic and Adaptive AUTOSAR.
“Our virtual ECU Creator will make it easy for our software experts to work in parallel, enabling us to create applications for the software-defined vehicle that enhance the driver’s safety and experience,” said Gilles Mabire, CTO at Continental Automotive.
Development from virtual to real
Continental says that automotive software developers will be able to use the vECU Creator to help decouple hardware and software decisions, simulate digital feature performance on the digital twin of hardware subsystems, and continuously release applications that customise and enhance the driver experience. CAEdge users can configure their vECU, choosing from a range of virtualised hardware and software for base tooling and simulation, covering typical microcontroller-based ECUs, zone controllers or high-performance computers.
After selecting the target chipset and middleware, a vECU is automatically set up in the user’s development environment based on their CAEdge preferences, allowing developers to begin coding immediately.
Elektrobit’s Classic and Adaptive AUTOSAR product lines are pre-integrated in the virtual ECU Creator and help enable a highly automated approach to integrate software, upgrade components, and test and validate new builds without the need of the target hardware. According to Continental, scaling vECUs for verification and validation is easy and on-demand, and the time required for test runs can be reduced significantly, decreasing overall time-to-market.
Collaboration with AWS
Continental and AWS have been collaborating since 2021. AWS is Continental’s preferred cloud provider for vECU Creator and its services help support CAEdge – a modular hardware and software framework developed by Continental that connects the vehicle to the cloud and features a virtual workbench offering options to help automakers develop, supply and maintain software-intensive system functions. This allows drivers to integrate the functions they want going forward during the entire service life of their vehicle by downloading quick and convenient software updates.
“Offering Continental’s vECU Creator on AWS will fundamentally change the automotive design process, which, for years, presented the challenge of developing vehicle software when physical hardware may not yet exist,” said Wendy Bauer, general manager of automotive and manufacturing at AWS. “Extending our strategic collaboration with Continental through virtual ECUs and the vECU Creator offerings directly addresses a significant industry issue and democratises the development process between automakers and their suppliers.”