What Has More Lines of Code, a Jet or a Car?

Bron: Pulse
Roger Lanctot


A premium automobile has more lines of code than an airplane or fighter jet by an order of magnitude – roughly 10:1, according to Battelle. The code load in cars is growing from entry-level segments straight through to luxury vehicles and the demands on maintaining and securing that code are growing.


Tesla has pulled a neat trick by offering over the air software updates intended, as far as the customer can see, to add features and functions to the car. In this way, Tesla has brought the concept of always fresh software to the automotive market along with the idea of the value of the car potentially improving over time.

But the implications of creating and maintaining and protecting all that code are only just beginning to be grasped by the wider automotive industry. It’s nice for Tesla to be adding features to its cars after the sale, but the reality is that the software code in every car on the road is laden with bugs.

So even in the best of circumstances software needs to be kept up to date even in instances where no features are being added. Automotive code is born with bugs and then immediately develops more as technology outside the car advances along with regulatory demands and changing patterns of usage.

Now add to the mix everyday system failures and wear and tear and, finally, the introduction of malicious code intended to corrupt on board systems, block communications, allow unauthorized access to the car or to enable unauthorized remote control. Now you have a need for on-board systems designed to monitor the operations of the vehicle for all forms of anomalous events.

GM executive vice president of global product development, Mark Reuss spoke at a luncheon recently regarding the company’s intention to use elements of OnStar “to predict about when [a failure] is going to happen,” according to a report from GM Authority. Reuss said such a system could inform the driver and or the dealer of the problem before it happens and thereby avoid “walk homes” – industry parlance for a bad customer experience.

An Autoblog report further noted that Reuss said that OnStar will inspect the vehicle’s systems and “compare its findings against vast pools of data in the cloud.” If the system detects an anomaly, OnStar will send a visual warning through the infotainment system or other display, according to the report.

Reuss went on to say that the system is being tested on GM employees’ cars with the intention of rolling something out to the public at a future date. (Read more: http://gmauthority.com/blog/2014/11/onstar-improves-on-the-idiot-light/#ixzz3KPAAI6Ux)

The significance of what Reuss is describing is that it opens the door to an entirely new relationship with the car and the customer. A car that can detect failures before they occur and can communicate problems to owners in a timely manner is a truly intelligent car fulfilling the promise of vehicle connectivity.

The next logical step will be more aggressive use of over-the-air software updates to fix bugs and add functions. But GM wants to move carefully so as not to alienate customers or dealers.

The GM strategy aligns perfectly with the work of organizations such as Battelle. Battelle has begun marketing its Network Enforcement Module (NEM) which is intended to monitor the functions of the car and compare that functioning to a “hyperplane” representing the normal functioning of the vehicle.

Battelle’s NEM is intended to detect abnormal unlocking of doors, hijacking, unauthorized reflashes, denial of service, replaying, fuzzing, byte cycling and other intrusions and violations. What’s significant is that both the GM initiative and the Battelle initiative reflect the emerging understanding of the need to leverage vehicle connectivity to protect the safe and secure operation of cars. (Battelle NEM video: http://tinyurl.com/mgvnxxa)

Whether for software updates, for adding features, for fixing bugs or for preventing intrusion, cars will increasing require on-board maintenance systems for monitoring the normal performance of the vehicle. Whether an anomaly is traffic-related, bug-related or due to a deliberate or accidental intrusion, cars of the future must be capable of storing the data related to the anomaly and determining what form of response is required such as notifying the driver, the dealer or the car maker – or even law enforcement.

Embedded connectivity creates customer expectations and car maker obligations. It is good to see the industry is finally recognizing these new requirements.

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