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Issues & Answers: Environmental Testing for Autonomous and Connected Vehicles

Autonomous and connected vehicles are taking the world by storm. How do we ensure proper safety and reliability for critical hardware like LIDAR, radar, cameras, and more?

Environmental/Dynamics Test Engineer, Sergio Serrano, of NTS discusses how to ensure proper safety and reliability for critical hardware in autonomous and connected vehicles.

What are autonomous and connected vehicles and why do we need to perform environmental and reliability tests?

Autonomous and connected vehicles are categorized as vehicles that have applications, services, and technologies that connect the vehicle to its surroundings. Typically, this means that if a vehicle has advanced driver-assistance systems (ADASs) and cooperative intelligent transport systems (C-ITS), it is considered autonomous or connected. ADAS technology can be based on camera systems, sensor technology, and more. Hardware like this plays a critical role in the safety and performance of the vehicle, which requires test labs to ensure compliance with test standards and customer requirements. Tests such as mechanical shock that simulates hitting a pothole, slamming the door of the vehicle, and getting into a vehicle collision are some requirements needed to ensure proper safety and reliability.

What are the most common tests to perform on autonomous and connected vehicle components?

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The most common tests require the device under test (DUT) to experience stresses that a vehicle will see in its lifetime. ISO 16750 parts 3 and 4 cover mechanical and climatic load testing such as sinusoidal and random vibration caused by the gearbox of the vehicle as well as rough road conditions. There are many other tests such as mechanical shock, extreme temperature, humidity, salt spray, and many more. These types of tests are crucial for critical components such as LIDAR and camera systems as these are the “eyes” of the autonomous/connected vehicle, thus meaning a failure could be catastrophic. There are many failure modes such as PCB mounts cracking during mechanical shock, product overheating during long hot temperature tests, and much more.

What are major concerns when testing hardware for autonomous and connected vehicles?

Increasing levels of automaticity brings an increased level of test requirements in which the hardware MUST pass. SAE has released an automation level chart ranking from 0 being no automation to 5 being fully autonomous. Currently, Tesla’s autopilot system is ranked level 2 on that chart, which underscores what is truly needed to make a vehicle fully autonomous. To test the hardware of the future for these vehicles, we need to account for the huge safety factor that comes with a failure on any of these systems. Vehicle manufacturers insist on using redundant systems as electronics can fail at any time, even with the most rigorous levels of testing. Testing for failures in a lab is definitely required during all phases of R&D and production.

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