Comment: Steering safety and cybersecurity in autonomous vehicles with digitalisation

By embracing model-based systems engineering (MBSE) and simulation, developers of autonomous vehicles will be able to innovate faster, and more safely, than ever before, says Dr. Christophe Bianchi, chief technologist at Ansys.


With the automotive industry refining advanced driver assist systems and developing autonomous vehicles (AVs) that can interact with each other on roads, larger and more complex systems are subsequently being created. Companies like EasyMile are implementing the “brains” into vehicles to advance transportation across Levels 3, 4, and 5 of the autonomy scale. As a result, we are closer to an autonomous future than ever before.

These are exciting times, but an autonomous future must also be a safe and cyber-secure one. These are two key factors that all original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers need to take into consideration when developing autonomous technologies, but they can sometimes clash. Advanced systems call for more components to monitor for failures and ensure safe and effective vehicle operation – yet, extra components also become potential new entry points for hackers to access and override the control system.

Safety and cybersecurity are crucial to the development of AVs, especially as vehicles advance through the autonomy scale. To reduce time to market and accelerate the transition to a safe and cyber-secure driverless future, digitalisation is the solution – specifically, by leveraging model-based systems engineering (MBSE) and simulation.

Maximising safety

Autonomous technologies cannot go to market without passing strict safety standards, so OEMs and suppliers must conduct rigorous and comprehensive analyses to ensure the final product is fit for public use. This includes testing components such as scenario validation and sensor performance, and teams need to be able to demonstrate that these are optimised and robust to regulation authorities. Safety management is also a continuous process, yet the digitalisation and automation of this has, thus far, been low.

To guarantee safety, engineers can turn to MBSE to provide a fully maintained, developed, and supported solution that increases efficiencies through automation. MBSE allows engineers to create “intelligent” digital models as a primary means of exchanging information, feedback, and requirements. Instead of using a document-based system – which is more disconnected and therefore increases risk of ambiguities, inaccuracies, and errors – teams can capture and communicate everything through a digital thread. This ensures that the models are coordinated and maintained throughout the entire lifecycle of the system.

By using MBSE in conjunction with simulation solutions, engineers can easily create, design, and simulate a product in the earlier stages of its development process to optimise the design and ensure safety requirements are met before it is physically built. Digitalising this process also allows for the scaling of the safety analysis for testing for Level 3 and above autonomous functions.

Guaranteeing cybersecurity

As technology advances, so do the skills and knowledge of hackers, so it’s critical that OEMs and suppliers develop cyber-secure products. Although cybersecurity is one aspect of overall safety management, the potential for clashes between the safety and cybersecurity functions creates a major challenge for engineering teams.

Simulation testing in a secure digital environment is the only way to guarantee sound security design, because it allows teams to create any number of potential scenarios and run an unlimited amount of tests to determine outcomes. Engineers can use simulation to develop dummy attacks to test the cybersecurity of a product so that it is prepared in the instance of a real event – not unlike using a vaccine to test and prepare white blood cells.

The use of a digital thread is crucial to the testing process, which is why implementing a comprehensive and integrated solution, like MBSE, is essential for developing AVs. Simulating cyberattacks – and observing an AV’s response – enables engineers to visualise and analyse the conflicting structure of safety and security requirements and ensure traceability. Collaboration between teams will be quicker and more effective, and will therefore lead to a better optimised product. A digital thread will also help companies present clear evidence that safety and cybersecurity threats have been tested and mitigated, the final product is compliant with regulations and standards, and it is ready to be taken to market. By combining MBSE and simulation, OEMs and suppliers can accelerate the transition to a safe and cyber-secure driverless future.

The future of autonomy

Autonomous technologies are evolving every day, thus revolutionising how we use transport. But safety and cybersecurity are front of mind, and AVs cannot go to market without the guarantee that they are suitable for public use. To keep up with the pace of change, and to maximise safety and cybersecurity, companies can embrace digitalisation through MBSE and simulation. By doing so, they will be able to innovate faster, and more safely, than ever before.

Dr. Christophe Bianchi, chief technologist, Ansys