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Car Software Will Only Increase

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Because of the Toyota recalls and the possibility of a problem with the software controlling the engine throttle, a spotlight has fallen on the ever-increasing amount of software in automobiles. An IEEE Spectrum article offers this comparison: The F-22 Raptor uses about 1.7 million lines of software code; the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will use 5.7 million lines of code; the Boeing 787 Dreamliner will require 6.5 million lines of code.

A new premium-class car likely contains close to 100 million lines of software code, and experts say this will reach between 200 million and 300 million lines in the near future.

The competing demands placed on passenger cars — from saving energy to improving safety to delivering in-vehicle entertainment — have necessitated enormous leaps forward in on-board software.

This has contributed to cost. In the late 1970s, the cost of electronics as a percent of each vehicle was around 5%, but by 2005 it had risen to 15%. As more hybrids and plug-in vehicles come to the market, this will increase. About 45% of the cost of a typical hybrid is in the electronics. In the future, these cost numbers should rise to 50% for regular vehicles and 80% for hybrids. IBM estimates that 50% of car warranty costs are directly tied to electronic systems and the software it takes to run them.

This complexity allows our cars to do remarkable things that were once considered science fiction, but this has also led to concerns about malfunctions, glitches and other safety hazards related to code — and software makes no worrisome rattling sound when something’s wrong.

There is no turning back from rapidly increasing automotive software, but this wave of the future will bring with it challenges and concerns the likes of which we are only beginning to get a sense of. Consider the worry over Toyota’s engine throttle just the tip of the iceberg in a new digital vehicle future.

Read the full article for a challenging and fascinating look at our future behind the wheel.

This Car Runs on Code (IEEE Spectrum)

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