BENGALURU — Technologies and processes are crossing industry boundaries, creating both pain and potential for test and measurement companies and test strategies built on closed and proprietary methods are putting organizations at risk.

The latest NI Trend Watch 2019 report examines the most crucial engineering trends and challenges of the changing technology landscape, including the Internet of Things (IoT), the progression of 5G technology from prototyping to commercial deployment and autonomous driving for the masses.

“These engineering trends are disrupting industries and product testing, leading to complex, unprecedented challenges,” said Shelley Gretlein, NI vice president of global marketing. “However, they also drive extraordinary innovation, which requires a fundamental shift in our approach to automated test and automated measurement – a shift that is grounded in software-defined systems.”

These engineering megatrends are transforming industries, product testing, and the companies trying to monetize the trends. “The proliferation of the IoT, 5G, autonomous driving for the masses present large and complex challenges, but they also give us the opportunity to innovate in ways we never could’ve imagined,” she pointed out.

These megatrends require a fundamental shift in the approach to automated test and measurement which would ultimately lead to multi-industry convergence in product development as well as test strategies for these products.

5G creating new generation of wireless test

With 5G wireless devices coming in with higher complexity, it is ushering in a new era of wireless test. Engineers must rethink the highly optimized techniques that have been used to test previous generations to enable the viable commercialization of 5G products and solutions.

New, lower cost over-the-air (OTA) test will be required. In future, with the increased frequencies, new package technologies, and greater antenna counts will make it difficult to keep quality high while limiting increases in both capital costs (cost of test equipment) and operating costs (time to test each device). New OTA techniques can help with these but they present challenges as well.

“In the past, test equipment suppliers and test engineers have risen to the challenge of testing increasing performance and complexity while minimizing time to market and cost of test, and they’ll do it again for 5G. Though the challenges of testing 5G look complex today, engineers around the world are already developing the new test instruments and methods, like OTA, that are necessary to make 5G a commercial success,” according to Charles Schroeder, NI Business and Technology Fellow.

Imminent trade-offs for achieving safe autonomous driving

There are going to be imminent trade-offs for achieving safe autonomous driving.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), a convergence of sensors, processors, and software to improve safety and improve self-driving capability are challenging the cost ratio for sensor redundancy to ensure overall safety. A software-defined test platform will be critical to keep pace with the evolution of processor architectures. While semiconductor and automotive industries are impacting microprocessor architectures, testing a hidden but equally critical part of ADAS.

Decisions on these trade-offs will have a tremendous impact on time to market and differentiating capabilities throughout the supply chain. The ability to quickly reconfigure testers will be critical in minimizing validation and production test costs and times, so flexibility through software will be key.

“We’re not just doubling down but quadrupling down in terms of the budget. We have nearly $4 billion to really make Toyota become a new mobility company that is world-class in software,” James Kuffner, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute – Advanced Development, had said in a Bloomberg report earlier this year.

This sentiment is not uncommon in automotive. There’s no clear answer to these trade-offs yet, but, just like past industrial revolutions empowered people to afford new technologies through a higher productivity gain, increasing efficiency in software development will be integral to the autonomous driving revolution, the NI report stated.

Making the IoT Work for Test

Internet of Things (IoT) devices and Industrial IoT (IIoT) systems are increasing in complexity, from semiconductors to electronic subsystems to the smart machines.Test is a hidden but critical function in this product chain, and increasing IoT device complexity is, in turn, increasing test complexity. The IoT can also greatly enhance automated test. Applying IoT capabilities such as systems management, data management, visualization and analytics, and application enablement to the automated test workflow can better equip test engineers to overcome the challenges of the IoT.

Need to keep pace with a standardized development process

Test engineers are capitalizing on an old trend to keep pace with a quickly modernizing test environment. They are going beyond hardware and software to standardize the process used to build and maintain test architectures.

Early standardizations focused on hardware abstraction, but modern technology is built on software and iterative software development processes are getting better products to customers faster. Test organizations must move to standardized methods of iterative software development to remain competitive.

Multi-Industry Convergence Disrupts Test Strategies

Industry convergence is not a new concept; it may actually be one of the oldest. As markets interact, they naturally exchange ideas, processes, and technologies, which makes them grow more intertwined. Agriculture and trade collided to create banking.

“More recently, the overlapping potential of healthcare and consumer electronics created wearables. Our globally connected society is only increasing the speed and scale with which convergence opportunities present themselves,” Luke Schreier, NI Vice President of Product Management for Automated Test stated.

The commentary on multi-industry convergence is vast. Blogs, articles, and analyst reports have noted that the acceleration from the digital revolution is upending long-established industries. But they rarely touch on how convergence will disrupt test organizations.

“Companies are feeling its effects every day as a dichotomy of threat and potential. Best-in-class organizations are tackling convergence directly by leveraging multi-industry test platforms and partnering with and learning from other organizations with multi-industry exposure,” he stated.

Collaborating with organizations that have multi-industry experience can help companies absorb unforeseen circumstances more effectively and leverage best practices from other industries. These companies can outsource their biggest problems to third parties that have already solved them or look for strategic partnerships in other industries around imminent trends like 5G and IoT.

NVIDIA and Audi partnering to accelerate technology development or Boeing and Embraer collaborating to take market share from competitors are just two of the many examples of how this type of cooperation can lift organizations above their industry peers. Re-evaluating where test happens in the supply chain and reviewing suppliers are also smart tactics. By being proactive, organizations can be prepared for what’s next and maybe even influence it, the NI report pointed out.

— Sufia Tippu is a freelance tech journalist based in India contributing to EE Times India