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Test strategies for the connected car

29 Oct 2015  | Steve Barraclough

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The next phase of the Connected Car evolution will integrate a wide range of technologies for wireless connectivity services that relate to improved safety and traffic management, infotainment and vehicle relationship management. Some of these services are delivered by linking the car to the internet via cellular broadband (2G, 3G, 4G and/or Wi-Fi) and/or by using satellite communications.

In the face of rising wireless system complexity, automotive manufacturers will need to continue to invest in extensive testing to ensure performance and reliability over the lifecycle of the vehicle. Development time and cost will inevitably and substantially increase as a result of this surge in testing. Automotive manufacturers need to address several development challenges that arise from the implementation of complex vehicle wireless systems. The mobile industry typically conducts testing in the early stages of the development cycle when issues are less complicated, time-consuming and expensive to rectify. The automotive industry would benefit from adopting similar test methodologies in order to reduce development time and costs associated with delivering the Connected Car vision.

Emergency call directives
Directives issued by government legislation and regulatory bodies will help to improve safety and traffic management as well as reduce carbon emissions, accident levels and related costs. Several governments are now mandating that an emergency call capability (e.g. eCall in Europe) must be integrated into every new car manufactured as early as 2017. The aim is to reduce the response time to an accident to half the current average.

To achieve this target, mandate dictates that in the event that an accident is detected (e.g. triggered by the release of an airbag or by the driver), cellular connectivity (using 2G, 3G or LTE) must be immediately established with the emergency services and maintained long enough to report the location and scale of the incident.

Connecting the vehicle to the internet
Future applications such as enhanced traffic information services, multimedia services, vehicle relationship management (VRM) services and baseline emergency call capabilities will rely on the quality and robustness of the connectivity the vehicle is able to establish with the wireless network. LTE is the favoured radio access technology option for next generation systems. However, in order to provide consistent service delivery, considerations need to be made in terms of backwards compatibility with 3G and even 2G.

In other words, to deliver the medium term baseline service vision, automotive wireless connectivity solutions embedded into the vehicle will need to support LTE, 3G and 2G, as well as Wi-Fi 802.11 air interfaces. Each air interface needs to be tested separately across worst case network conditions that the vehicle is likely to encounter and interoperability between each air interface needs to be tested thoroughly.

Intelligent transport systems
Wireless connectivity that enables intelligent transport systems and vehicle safety solutions are based on extensions to existing Wi-Fi standards, which operate close to the 6GHz frequency range. In order to verify continuous vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) connectivity, automotive manufacturers need to early in the development cycle conduct lab-based testing that accurately replicates on-road radio network conditions. Latency is a key consideration since it ultimately dictates the speed threshold that the system can safely operate.

Ensuring wireless connectivity performance and reliability
Signal interference issues can arise as a result of the extreme proximity of multiple radio transceivers within the vehicle where the transmit power of one transmitter may be much higher than the received power level of another receiver. In some coexistence scenarios, such as when different radio technologies within the vehicle operate on adjacent frequencies, current state-of-the-art filter technology might not provide sufficient signal rejection. This problem is further compounded by fact that final material composition of the vehicle is not known until late in the development cycle and consequently interference modes and paths become increasingly difficult to predict in real world network connection scenarios. These radio design challenges can be addressed by conducting testing as described below.

Mobile test industry developments
Test methodologies used in the mobile device industry where there is already a strong focus on performance, low cost and shorter development cycles can easily be adopted by the automotive industry. For example, the virtual drive testing concept a lab-based performance and interoperability test solution has been proven to accelerate product rollouts and quality assurance testing by integrating industry-leading lab and field test tools with a sophisticated test automation environment.

Virtual drive testing significantly reduces field testing by accurately replicating field mobility scenarios. Data captured in the field is used to build tests that replay drive or indoor routes in a virtual environment by emulating real-world RF network conditions in the laboratory. This replay can be performed with real network infrastructure or with a network simulator.

The majority of wireless connectivity technology resides in an embedded Telematics Control Unit (TCU). Automotive wireless systems use an Over-the-Air (OTA) test methodology to perform interoperability and performance testing first on the telematics unit including antenna cluster in the lab, and later on the prototype vehicle with the telematics unit and antenna cluster integrated.

Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) OTA performance testing is used to assess user experience by replicating real-world radio network conditions as seen by the vehicle antenna cluster. MIMO OTA testing uses channel emulators in conjunction with either an anechoic chamber or a reverberation chamber to accurately emulate urban, suburban, rural, and indoor radio environments.

Automotive system developers also benefit from verifying that the data throughput performance of in-vehicle software and hardware modules complies with operator requirements from multiple geographic regions under real-world network conditions prior to final integration. The use of operator acceptance and data throughput tests enables the automotive industry to drastically reduce their performance-related test effort and highlight system issues that impact quality of experience much earlier in the vehicle development cycle.

The ability to successfully realise the vision and initiatives set out by the automotive industry and various governments will ultimately depend on manufacturers' ability to deliver robust, stable and flexible vehicle connectivity platforms. The manufacturer of a vehicle has to address a number of challenges when integrating a wide range of technologies to support future applications and services. By using testing methodologies deployed in the mobile device development industry, the automotive industry will be able to optimise their test regimes to deliver an enhanced Connected Car experience.

About the author
Steve Barraclough is Strategic Business Development Manager at Anite.

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