Todd Brian, Mentor Graphics
Sep 21, 2006 (7:05 PM) -- commsdesign.com
The mandate for certified safe and secure software used to be the exclusive domain of military, medical and government or other niche areas. New regulations are beginning to play a critical role in the viability of devices manufactured for the global market.
As with many technologies, the military was one of the first "industries" to mainline the use of computers in both its infrastructure and weapons systems. One can only imagine some of the spectacular failures that lead to the development of some of the military specific standards.
Regardless, they were one of the first to propose a rigor for the development of software used in military devices. From military applications, it was a natural evolution for software to move into civilian applications such as avionics. First used in communication, diagnostics and guidance systems, software controls systems have moved into the arena of flight control systems, where fly-by-wire systems have now been deployed in commercial aircraft. The European Airbus 380 is a perfect example of an aircraft flown entirely by computer; there are no mechanical linkages between the pilot and the flight control surfaces.
Medical devices are another area where the safety of software plays a role in ensuring both operator and patient safety. Programmable electronic devices are deployed in everything from portable blood glucose monitors to implanted heart defibrillators. Increasingly, automobile manufacturers are adding more and more computing power to their products. The reasons range from safety concerns, to environmental, to cost.
Engine management software cleans our exhaust, controls the transmission to insure optimal performance, and anti-locking braking software maximizes stopping power. In the late 1990s, BMW replaced the wiring harness used for controlling things like electric door locks, mirror and window controls with a simple two-wire CAN bus, and as a result, eliminated over 10 Kg of wiring from the vehicle. Nowadays, modern luxury vehicles contain upward of 80 or more programmable electronic devices.
Many automotive manufacturers are toying with the idea of X-By-Wire systems (steer by wire, break by wire). This is an attractive feature to add from the standpoint of safety as the steering column has been removed along with the prospect of impaling the driver who is involved in an accident. Furthermore, now the manufacturer no longer has to maintain two versions of the vehicle as the steering wheel and the glove box can be interchangeable. The dealer can customize the car for either driving in the US/Europe or the UK/Japan/Australia.
The use of software in the aforementioned devices improves their functionality and usefulness, but if that software fails, then in some cases the results are catastrophic. Expensive devices may be ruined, but worse, there is a potential for loss of life.
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