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Why & How Functional Safety is Taking Precedence in the UK's Automotive Space

Autonomous vehicle - shortDon’t forget to charge the car! Today, the automotive industry is all about electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous driving vehicles (AVs) - especially in the UK. In fact, manufacturers in the UK have committed £10.8 billion in EV and battery R&D and production since 2011.

Now, concerns surrounding “functional safety,” or the overall safety of a vehicle’s system or equipment, are at the forefront of the conversation. The topic of functional safety is especially prevalent when it comes to autonomous driving. That’s because the decision-making made by a vehicle’s software or algorithms within the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) present a danger to human life (to some extent) if they fail.

Although we’re moving in the right direction, we may have a winding road ahead. Here’s how we got here and where we’re headed next.

 

MOVING TOWARDS TECH & AUTOMATION

The industry has grown massively in recent years. The market is much more electronics-focused and technology-driven than ever, especially with the shift from combustion engines to EVs and AVs. I'm seeing it happen first-hand, since a lot of the businesses and Engineers I work with are the people who develop software and algorithms around the CPU and how it interacts with a vehicle's mechanics.

Today’s electric, hybrid, and autonomous vehicles are equipped with a central processing unit (CPU). It serves as the "brain of the vehicle" and controls all decision-making using signals from many different components integrated into a system. When everything functions properly, the system controls the hardware, implements the best appropriate actions, and performs continuous monitoring.

Ultimately, these automatic protection systems need to respond correctly to the inputs they receive. They should have predictable responses to failure in order to maintain functional safety. Of course, the two big questions the world wants to know are, “Is this safe?” and “How can we make it safer?”

 

"HELP WANTED" IN THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY

Industry shifts, along with COVID-19 and the Great Resignation, have opened the door for candidates to many new opportunities in technology. Unfortunately, though, because of these recent events, Europe is experiencing a massive candidate shortage, or talent gap, when it comes to functional safety. There are a few key reasons why, which we’ll get into now.

1. Vehicles are Built Much Differently Today

In the past, a manufacturer would have a select few suppliers... One company would provide the sound system, while another would provide clutch and braking systems, and so on. You could simply replicate a piece of physical equipment by adjusting the size to make it fit into a bigger or smaller vehicle. Production jobs were primarily physical and labor-intensive roles.

Now, things are much more outsourced and technical. Companies are developing software for more areas in the market. The same singular company won’t specialize in everything for your car. Instead, multiple companies will specialize in and supply the multiple necessary systems for a vehicle - each of which keeping functional safety in mind. The influx of technology suppliers and niche systems has created a surplus of jobs.

2. More Niche Areas in the Market

Companies have transferred their focus from traditional combustion engines to EVs, AVs, and hybrid vehicles. Due to that shift, there are many more technical areas of the market that need to be covered. Today’s vehicles are equipped with a number of components that all integrate and contribute to the CPU’s ultimate decision-making.

3. Skills Shortage

Today, it’s especially hard to come by candidates with skills in the areas of functional safety (whether on a systems or software level). Not many graduates choose to learn about or work in positions that could help the shift.

4. New Government Mandates

There has also been a shift in the industry driven by governing bodies in an effort to reduce emissions. In Europe, the UK, and the EU, governing bodies are pledging to only produce and trade electric and hybrid vehicles (do away with combustion engines) by 2030.

So, what does all of this mean for you?

 

KEEPING THE WHEELS IN MOTION

It's clear that functional safety will remain at the forefront of the UK's automotive scene for quite some time. On the roads, the general public's safety depends heavily on the proper functionality of the technology powering AVs and EVs. However, the technology in your vehicle can't exist or function properly without the right people in place at today's tech companies. In other words - it's at risk of malfunctioning.

If you’re in the business of developing software, systems, or equipment for EVs, AVs, and hybrid vehicles, it’s better to be safe instead of sorry. The best way to stay innovative and on top to keep your products safe is by getting ahead of the talent shortage. In most cases, hiring the right experts for your functional safety roles all boils down to working with the right partner!

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