Continental bracing for a world of bugs

It adds 1,000 software engineers every year

Matschi: More code, more bugs

DETROIT — As if cars weren't complex enough to keep engineers working late, they are about to get even more complex — by a multitude of headaches.

Consider the next generation of vehicle infotainment systems envisioned for 2021-2022. Such components will likely require 3 million lines of software code, or six times what they currently need. And the results will yield an average of 45,000 software bugs needing to be fixed, estimates Helmut Matschi, Continental AG's board member responsible for its Interior Division.

That's one reason Continental has been buying smaller engineering and software companies, Matschi said, such as the Israeli startup Argus Cyber Security it bought last November and Finland's Elektrobit Automotive Group, which it acquired 2½ years ago. Continental needs more engineering expertise to sort out problems that will arise from new complexities, he said.

Elektrobit provides Continental with about 2,000 engineers, although a portion of the company solicits and services customers other than Conti.

Matschi estimates that Continental already has about 15,000 software engineers, but that number is growing.

"We have a growth of about 1,000 software people annually," he said during a visit to Detroit last month.

"The software complexity is increasing, and we need to prepare our processes to counteract accordingly," he said. "When Continental grew up with electronics, it was more of a hardware-driven development. Now we're in this phase to change to a software-driven development business."

Software complexity is coming from multiple directions. New technologies are entering the vehicle, such as advanced digital optics and vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

Existing technologies are becoming more complex, including the shift from mechanical body controllers to computerized body components.

And automakers and suppliers are increasingly attempting to link the features and components in networks — for example, using vehicle-to-vehicle communications to apply brakes when necessary.

Matschi said it all comes back to software engineering. In the past, a technology project might have devoted 40 percent of its investment to software engineering, he estimated. "Now, already, it is more than 50 percent."

With widespread use of high-performance computers in vehicles early next decade, development projects might direct as much as 80 percent of their budgets to software, he predicts.

"We need to treat the vehicle as a huge software project," Matschi said. "Otherwise we will become overwhelmed by the complexity."

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