Diagnostics 4.0 – Diagnostics in the Driving Seat

Vehicles are increasingly connecting themselves with their environment: with other vehicles, parts of the infrastructure, the cloud. And this is in fact the key to new functions such as autonomous driving. Together with the increasing electrification of vehicles, this is placing even more demands on diagnostics – but at the same time is also presenting completely new opportunities.

It is no secret that the car industry is facing a radical shake-up. Every manufacturer is working flat out to make electrically driven vehicles which autonomously get their passengers from A to B and – in the case of commercial vehicles – spontaneously pick up other passengers along the way. The terms “driver” and “combustion engine” are no longer part of this vision; what is essential for passenger logistics and autonomous driving is the communication with other vehicles, the surrounding infrastructure and the cloud. This scenario makes much higher demands on the availability and reliability of internal vehicle systems as well as on their ability to connect with the environment as was the case to date.

On the road to new diagnostic functions

In many ways these scenarios have a major influence on the subject of vehicle diagnostics – in all phases of the life cycle. Today, diagnostics is used in Engineering to validate ECU functions and in Manufacturing to check the correct (partial) installation of components at the right point of the production line. Even repairing a vehicle – today a network of up to 120 microcomputers – is no longer possible without diagnostics. Here, an error is first localized using diagnostics and, ultimately, the correct repair is confirmed with the identical system. Error detection always takes place in two phases: First of all the ECUs continuously check their environment of sensors, actuators and other ECUs for errors (on-board diagnostics) and store any irregularities detected (fault memory). An external expert system, mostly on a PC basis, can then, if necessary, access these entries in the fault memory via the OBD jack and – also by linking several entries – give tips on the cause of a particular error and how to repair it. The ECUs are accessed using standardized protocols, the parameterization of the expert systems using standardized description formats such as ODX (Open Diagnostic Data Exchange) and OTX (Open Test Se-quence Exchange). The description formats are subject to a well-defined creation and release process and contain both diagnostic descriptions as well as all information necessary for the flash programming of the ECUs. Current developments are making it necessary to run diagnostics on completely new vehicle systems. One very obvious example is the battery unit together with its charging system. The central energy store for all driving, comfort and safety systems plays a central role in terms of its availability, which Extending vehicle functions into the cloud will also make additional diagnostics necessary. The cloud is effectively an independent ECU and has to be monitored with its own diagnostics – including the underlying connections. This concerns systems which the vehicle manufacturer cannot control or verify in each possible status during a trip.

Read the entire technical article “Diagnostics in the Driving Seat” written by Markus Steffelbauer to learn more about the future areas of implementation, what´s already reality and how the journey is likely to progress. Markus Steffelbauer heads up Product Management and Marketing at Softing Automotive and is a committed member of standardization bodies.

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