Moving rapidly from design to test of automated parking systems with maximum reuse & minimal system changes

Author : Derek O’Dea | Head of ADAS Test Infrastructure & Tools | Valeo

01 May 2020

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Vehicle safety systems are becoming increasingly complex, due to the growth of software components, while development timelines are ever shorter. French automotive supplier, Valeo needed to develop a system that reuses employee skillsets, software & hardware to more efficiently design & test automated parking systems.

This article was originally featured in EPDT's 2020 PXI for T&M supplement, included in the May 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Derek O’Dea, Head of ADAS Test Infrastructure & Tools at Valeo tells us how using a National Instruments platform, built around PXI, enabled Valeo to go from design to test with minimal system changes, adapting to changing requirements and completing the project within shrinking timelines.

Valeo is a €16.5 billion company and one of the world’s largest component & technology suppliers for many leading car brands. The company’s measurement equipment & tools group validates components used in safety systems, which are becoming increasingly complex, due to the growth of software components. Simultaneously, the traditional two-year automotive development cycle continues to erode, leading to compressed timelines. Designing to customer demands is key, but customers seldom know everything they want at the onset of design. This results in a tight project timeline that is complex in nature and dynamic in terms of features and requirements.

Designing driver-assistance systems

One area of particular interest for Valeo is automated parking systems. These camera-based systems involve complex embedded systems with multiple design stages. The first stage is to tune the computer vision algorithms. To do this, Valeo use a modular PXI hardware control platform from test & measurement specialist, National Instruments (NI) that can address a wide range of measurement types to interface with various sensors and automotive networks.

Figure 1. Camera assistance during automated parking

Valeo typically deploy a PXI chassis in a vehicle and interface it to live camera, ultrasonic, vehicle bus and environmental sensor data from a range of driving situations. It uses this live data to train and validate its computer vision deep learning algorithms at the bench later. After training the algorithms, it deploys them onto the actual electronic control unit hardware that ships with the camera system. This introduces the challenge of thoroughly testing the controller with the deployed software.

Valeo need to comprehensively test the controller in real-life scenarios; however, expensive road tests make it difficult, if not impossible, to test every possible use case. By performing hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) testing, Valeo use a mixture of simulated and real environmental sensor data to ‘trick’ the embedded controller under test into operating as though it were in the real world. Then it can run through thousands of possible scenarios to ensure the reliability and safety of the system.

From design to test

For the test setup, Valeo uses the same PXI hardware in a different role. Rather than interfacing to physical sensors, the PXI system performs extensive HIL testing by simulating all the sensor inputs that would normally exist if the controller were physically installed in the vehicle. Using a graphics card and a host of PXI I/O, Valeo creates a virtual car inside a virtual world that the device under test (DUT) can control. This helps to assess how well its device can control the virtual car. In short, it uses software to simulate a test environment for a complex system of sensors and controllers in order to validate their capabilities.

Figure 2. Camera guided obstacle avoidance

In parallel, Valeo also re-injects the sensor data captured earlier in the vehicle to the controller, so the DUT is receiving sensor data exactly as it would in the car. Time synchronisation of the multiple sensor streams is important in order to have the same test results at the HIL bench, and in the real car – here, the full PXI time sync is key. 

Software-defined systems

This flexible test system, based on modular NI hardware, satisfied Valeo’s need to respond to changing features and requirements, but the company still had the challenge of tight schedules. To address this, it focused on efficiency through the reuse of tools and by equipping its staff with the knowledge needed to work on multiple parts of the project.

On the tools side, let’s look at software IP as an example. Valeo created common software tools using NI LabVIEW (systems design software for applications that require test, measurement & control) that it could implement through multiple stages of the design process and on multiple projects. Imagine using the same test code from project conception to full scale production: that was the goal – and Valeo typically reuses 80% of the code.

While Valeo has enjoyed great success in code reuse, it also had to consider that hardware elements change with each camera module. Every emerging generation of camera typically has a new custom communications protocol. By using FlexRIO, an FPGA configurable add-on for PXI modules, Valeo could limit its redesign to just an adapter board that acts as an interface between the DUT and the rest of the system. Using the PXI platform, the firm got the flexibility it needed, while still ensuring it could reuse all the common elements, such as the DAQ functionality and HIL environment.

Figure 3. Obstacle avoidance for automated parking

Another key part of its ability to meet rapidly approaching deadlines lay with its people. Valeo built LabVIEW proficiency throughout its team. Engineers can work on FPGA code, as well as data acquisition, vehicle interface and HIL simulations. Thanks to the NI platform, when the company received a new project, it was able to take advantage of maximum reuse of the team, software IP and the core hardware system. The only thing it needed to change from project to project was a single FlexRIO adapter module. The team remains motivated because the company could shift them to different functions within the project and no one grows tired of remaining on a single task. This was a huge asset to the efficiency of the team and has been a great success for Valeo.

Summary

Using the NI platform, Valeo is keeping pace with its demanding industry’s continual evolution. As new technology is introduced and timelines continue to press it to work faster, the company knows it can meet the challenge by operating efficiently. Reusing skillsets, software and hardware empowers it to not only be successful in its present endeavours, but also gives it the confidence to welcome future challenges.


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