As GM's Volt hits the road, details of its software innards emerge

As GM's Volt hits the road, details of its software innards emerge

Summary: The car, which GM hopes will give it an edge on rivals, has 100 electronic controllers, 10 million lines of software code and its own IP address.

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TOPICS: IBM, Software
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General Motor's Volt---the electric car that could redefine the company---is about to hit the road and now details about its engineering innards are starting to emerge.

Make no mistake about it. The Volt is more software and code than anything else. The car, which GM hopes will give it an edge on rivals, has 100 electronic controllers, 10 million lines of software code and its own IP address. A car in the 1980s was roughly 5 percent electronics. The Volt is 40 percent. GM likens the product development for the Volt to a rocket program.

On Monday, IBM and GM outlined Big Blue's role in the engineering of the Volt. In a nutshell, GM used IBM's Rational software to design and test the Volt in its 29 months of gestation. IBM got into the automotive design industry two years ago via its acquisition of Telelogic. GM used that technology to develop its cars. With IBM tools, GM developed its algorithms as well as overall tool chain.

Meg Selfe, director of embedded systems at IBM, said Big Blue worked closely with GM engineers to develop processes and lend engineering expertise. IBM's efforts with GM were a separate engagement from its outsourcing deal with the automaker. Self said the partnership on the Volt wasn't about information technology. The collaboration was all about engineering and embedded systems.

IBM helped GM standardize its vehicle design on fewer software tools and used its supercomputers to test Volt battery packs and its 161 components in various conditions.

Micky Bly, GM's executive director of electrical systems, hybrid electric vehicles, b

atteries and OnStar engineering, said that the automaker had to transform its DNA to a "software centric platform." "We can safely say that there's a 40 percent to 60 percent increase in software code relative to another car," said Bly. Everything from the thermal management of the lithium battery to make it last 8 to 10 years to controls for motors to apps to unlock the Volt all depend on software. IBM's simulation tools allowed GM to speed up the development time so the project stayed on target even as the automaker worked its way through bankruptcy.

In many respects, the Volt is a system of systems and a massive integration project. GM's engineering challenge is to hide the Volt's complexity so the driver just h

as a fun experience. Bly said that GM's differentiators will come from the technology behind batteries, motors and controls. The rub: You won't notice those items unless something goes wrong. GM is hoping Volt owners won't ever need to delve into the software behind the car.

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Topics: IBM, Software

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13 comments
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  • Holy cr@p

    What happens when they are taken over by a botnet? Will they all do exactly the same thing? :-)
    Economister
    • No Microsoft software used here.

      NT.
      DonnieBoy
    • RE: As GM's Volt hits the road, details of its software innards emerge

      Anonymous, load your Low Orbit Ion Cannons, target xx.xxx.xxx.xxx! FIRE NOW!<br><br>Passenger: Uhh, hey Steve, why did the on-board monitor just go blank?<br>Driver: Not sure, huh, what the heck, the controls aren't responding!<br><br>FUUUUUUUUU! Right into a tree.
      Myoga-
      • RE: As GM's Volt hits the road, details of its software innards emerge

        @Myoga- HAL: Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.
        minardi
      • RE: FUUUUUUUUU! Right into a tree.

        @Myoga-

        Likely to occur after a BSOD which states:

        `Microsoft Anti Lock Braking has experienced a problem and must be restarted. In order to properly restart Microsoft Anti Lock Braking, this vehicle must be at a complete stop.`

        while you are flying down the interstate at 70MPH, right behind a stalled semi truck.

        Oops!
        fatman65535
    • RE: As GM's Volt hits the road, details of its software innards emerge

      @Economister
      It has IBM software. This means that you will have to carry a 20,000 page red book in the trunk to learn to operate the car and then hire an IBM consultant at $500 per hour to help you get it running again if you hit the wrong button.
      sharkboyjohn
      • Well, in that case...

        @sharkboyjohn

        I will take two. ;-)
        Economister
  • RE: As GM's Volt hits the road, details of its software innards emerge

    HAL: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.
    minardi
  • Interesting

    Wow, as a fledgling computer scientist I see the possibilities of software in the automotive industry, but I also think increased use of software in our cars is downright scary. I know it will happen more and more as we move into the 21st century, but to have a car that is that much automated is not a good thing. What happens when one device malfunctions and takes down the whole system? How expensive will the fix be? Obviously, you probbaly will not be able to fix it yourself and so auto shops will have a field day. These are just some of the concerns considering that no computer software is ever bug-free, even in this day and age.
    statuskwo5
    • Yup

      @statuskwo5

      I like my old cars where I know how to fix basically everything and most functions are manual. They have engine control computers for combustion and emission control, but that is about as far as I like to go.

      I don't trust repairmen/repair facilities (automotive, computer or w.h.y.) at all. That does not mean there are no good ones, just that I have seen enough shady or incompetent ones to avoid them like the plague.

      Keep it simple and let me do the driving.
      Economister
  • RE: As GM's Volt hits the road, details of its software innards emerge

    With this amount of code even 1 defect in 10,000 lines (which is extremely good) leaves 1000 defects uncorrected.
    "10 million lines of software code"
    mrlinux
  • RE: As GM's Volt hits the road, details of its software innards emerge

    It will be "Prius Runaway" part two/redux.

    Essentially, purchasing a Chevrolet Volt will not be a sane or rational decision (for the average person. Fleet managers may well take a different view: it won't be their lives at risk, after all) for at least another 5 years: it will take that long for it to emerge as a mature, safe-operating system.

    Bear in mind, the "Runaway Prius" issue took nearly two years to come to light, despite one of the most intensive automobile development programs in history, which spanned some seven years. It took Toyota another 18 months to solve the issue, after the first few runaway events.

    Given that, I cannot perceive that GM will have a track record as good as that of Toyota, even though I have much goodwill toward GM.

    Uyraell.
    Uyraell
  • RE: As GM's Volt hits the road, details of its software innards emerge

    Wow, that's a lot of code. About the same ballpark as Windows NT 4 around 1996. Lots of places "to put" errors.

    Since it is "proprietary", I'm sure they have done little to nothing to secure the code, depending on "security by obscurity". And along the way, they are probably repeating the same error that MS made with DOS and Windows. DOS started as a single user, single threaded system, with no external connectivity, so security was not considered. Security had to be "bolted on" after the fact starting in the mid 1990's. Sure, with 100 processors in the "network", they have built in multi-threading and real-time processing, but that is probably the only diff from early windows.

    You can buy little hand held gizmos that plug in and read and clear stored "error codes". I'm sure that these new cars comply with this industry standard. So there you have it, at least one very accessible IO port for hackers to jack into.

    Could be an interesting time for owners of these vehicles in a couple of years when their numbers on the street have increased and hackers have had time, and reasons, to investigate the code.
    Ron_007