Reliability and the Self-Driving Car

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The race to launch a commercially available self-driving car was front and center at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. I took more than one ride in a self-driving vehicle and came out unscathed and usually awed by the current state of affairs. We are still a long way from a true self-driving car, but the gains that have been made in the last couple of years have been extremely impressive.

One area that is often left to the future is safety and reliability. Just getting things to work is a challenge. Most developers working in this area are addressing these issues, but they often do not talk about them much. The demo I had from Renesas did.

Renesas has worked with a number of partners—including Blackberry with its automotive software, the QNX RTOS. The latest demo is built around multiple Renesas’ R-Car starter kits that can meet the ASIL-B standard while each pair was managed by a Renesas RH850 that can meet ASIL-D. This should allow the combined system to meet ASIL-D requirements.

The particular demo utilized a triple, software-redundant configuration where three of four R-Car chips were used. The system would detect when one of the three was out of synch allowing it to be isolated with the other two continuing to operate.

Another part of the demo highlighted monitoring of network communications. It could identify some types of attacks and then isolate the portion of the network under attack.

A couple of examples were demonstrated while I was in the car. One part of the demo had the car pull over in a designated spot when the system detected a simulated error that reduced the system to a minimal safe configuration. A commercial solution would need to do much more but it will need to have the same type of checking and redundancy that was demonstrated by Renesas and Blackberry QNX.

The wave of self-driving technology is unstoppable at this point (see “Self-Driving Cars Are Coming Whether You Like It or Not” on We are not even close to the first self-driving car that will operate at large under most driving conditions and it is going to take a lot more technology, redundancy, and good design to make it happen.


Discuss this Blog Entry 6

on Jan 16, 2017

so this one is telling multi chip and multi module designs are the future?

on Jan 16, 2017

Autonomous cars will NEVER be safe. Consider how the fly-by-wire accelerators were flooring themselves in Toyota vehicles? That is because Toyota violated a basic principle of vehicles, which is that there always needs to be metal on metal backup. That is the way power steering and power brakes are always designed. You can take the battery cable off, killing the engine, and you can still steer and brake. There is nothing like that possible with autonomous cars. The servos for steering, braking, accelerating, etc., will jam and malfunction, just as Toyota's accelerator, and there will be no way to avoid the deadly accidents it will cause. For example, autonomous cars typically use a chain drive to the steering, and what if that chain breaks? There simply is no way to achieve reliability with such a system. Planes to it with mandatory daily maintenance schedules. No one is going to do that with cars.
I could go on with thousands of other implementation problems, but there is no need, because marketing alone should indicate this is a dead issue. There could never be any profit in autonomous cars. Since they would never speed or be any fun, no one would spend extra money on anything but an econo box. So not only would profits plunge, but lawsuits would increase so much that any maker would very quickly go broke. There is no business plan that makes any sense for autonomous cars.

on Jan 16, 2017

These self-driving cars are sure looking better all the time! I can't wait for them to take over!

on Jan 16, 2017

I can !!!

on Jan 16, 2017

If they can make them truly reliable, it could be a boon to the elderly who can no longer drive.

on Jan 16, 2017

Self driving cars are like the "personal mandate" in Obamacare. No one likes to be told at the point of a gun what to do. Yes Virginia, IRS agents do carry guns. That's why our tax system is not voluntary like the IRS commissioners like to brag. So they can come, but I'll never use one.

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William Wong

Bill Wong covers Digital, Embedded, Systems and Software topics at Electronic Design. He writes a number of columns, including Lab Bench and alt.embedded, plus Bill's Workbench hands-on column....
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