SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Chevy Volt provides an example of the need for unified tools and methods to handle the increasing complexity and software content in embedded system design, according to a keynote at the Embedded Systems Conference here.
"Software is becoming the most strategic asset and its use is growing astronomically," said Meg Selfe, a vice president for complex and embedded systems at IBM Rational, the group acquired by IBM in 2003 that pioneered the Unified Modeling Language.
Selfe described IBM's work to help streamline General Motors' design process, bringing the hybrid electric car to market in 29 months compared to 60 months for a typical new car design cycle. The advance was even more significant given the car used a new battery pack, electric drive unit and cabin electronics.
"They focused on time to market, and they had to because it was a life or death moment for them," said Selfe, referring to the near bankruptcy of GM and other Detroit automakers.
"They were in a near-death experience, so they brought together their best thousand engineers," said the IBM exec, herself a former systems engineer at GM and Delphi. "They were changing the way in which they did engineering," she said.
Specifically, GM moved the Volt team to a new product development platform, streamlining its tools and processes along the way. That meant going through a difficult set of decisions about which of thousands of tools and processes were best of breed and which it needed to jettison.
"It was like a battle of tools," Selfe said. "But they weren’t afraid to pull teams together and make decisions using new governance procedures" so in the end everyone could agree on how to move forward, she said.
IBM helped create "a bunch of connectors and wrappers to help them automate their [resulting] tool chain," Selfe said. The tools included automatic code generators something many in the embedded world are still coming to grips with, she said.
In a sign of the complexity of the task, the Volt uses an estimated 10 million lines of code, running about 100 control units. That's up from about six million lines of code in typical 2009 model cars and as little as 2.4 million in 2005.
The number of test procedures was also cut from more than 600 to about 400. "Testing is something all of us can still waste too much time and energy on," she said.
In an acknowledgement of the increasing importance of its in-house software, GM gave each Volt its own IP address.
"They use it for a few things today, like finding a charging station, but they hope to use it to push more software out to the vehicles in the future," Selfe said.
In the end, GM "put more of the design in-house," especially the software design, Selfe said. "It was a risk on their part because they are a very old company, but they needed to do it different and they did," she said.
IBM posted a video online about its work with the Volt.
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