Formal verification assumes starring role in automotive

June is National Safety Month and a great time to look at the tremendous advances in automotive technology, much of it related to ensuring the safety of the car’s driver and passengers. Anyone buying a smart vehicle today will get options to assist them with parking, lane management, and braking.

These features were made possible by increasingly complex electronic systems, with a nod to sophisticated and automated chip design verification tools. It’s important to note that with advancements also come countless opportunities for things to go wrong if these chips aren’t adequately verified. A malfunctioning corrective steering system could cause harm to the vehicle’s occupants, for example.

That’s why the international standard for automotive electric/electronic systems is indispensable. It imposes stringent requirements that encompass a system’s entire life cycle, from concept to development, production, and decommissioning. It addresses the overall safety management process and covers relations with suppliers and interfaces for distributed development.

ISO 26262 also makes a compelling case for the use of solutions to help automotive suppliers advance their technology, while keeping drivers and passengers safe. In fact, while formal verification is invaluable for any hardware application, its ability to debug automotive and mission-critical applications may prove to be its most effective use.

The risk of liability is a reason to adopt the ISO 26262 standard, but there’s more at stake. Vehicle recalls and malfunctions leading to fatal car accidents cause economic damage and diminish a company’s brand. The standard specifies two types of component faults that must be fully verified. Systematic faults are introduced during component development through human error or tool/methodology malfunction and are handled by rigorous verification and careful tracking of specific device requirements.

The standard also addresses random faults that occur during the device’s operation due to external effects. These faults must be handled by the circuitry within the device, requiring the use of fault-handling capabilities built into the systems and verified to ensure that they’ll catch the majority of possible random faults.

Over the past several years, automotive suppliers made substantial investments to meet ISO 26262 requirements, including the adoption of formal verification. Formal verification’s ease of use and capacity make it popular within the semiconductor industry. Its comprehensive safety critical analysis and diagnostic coverage capabilities make it ideal for automotive and other mission-critical applications.

Formal tools address specific challenges in the efficient development of safety-critical hardware, significantly transforming both the quality and efficiency of the verification process, and streamlining activities required to satisfy the ISO 26262 standard. Engineering groups use formal verification to capture specification elements in verification tests. The tool accurately measures and feeds back coverage to systematically close the verification process.

At its finest, formal verification offers multiple applications for both systematic and random fault verification. The tool has powerful techniques to uncover bugs that might otherwise escape simulation-based verification and lead to systematic failures. It can examine design behavior exhaustively without the need for input stimuli, and prove that the design never deviates from its intended function, as specified by a property or assertion. Even for simple designs, simulation tools can’t achieve this level of precision.

is a vice president at OneSpin. Previously, he was president and CEO of Sigmatix. He holds an MS degree in Microelectronics and an MBA from Boston University.

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