Decoupling hardware and software timelines to shorten the development cycle

Jan 26, 2023 by Marek Jersak, Frank Kirschke-Biller and Andreas Lindenthal



The advent of the software-defined vehicle (SDV) has brought growing complexity of automotive software and a demand for more and more features in a shorter timeframe.

As a result, most automakers are decoupling hardware and software development in a bid to reduce development time, speed up production and ultimately improve economics. Most commonly, we see a push to start testing earlier in the development lifecycle and more virtualization to improve flexibility and scalability in deploying test environments. Hardware/Software separation can go further, but this requires a move away from waterfall-based Automotive Product Development ProcessesLuxoft helps automakers with this transformation to software-defined vehicles our unique mix of automotive knowledge and software-development expertise places us in an ideal position to help expand the extent of hardware/software separation and maximize development efficiency. 

SDV development needs to happen largely in the virtual world


The way forward 


Software/Hardware separation creates a reduction in product development time by decoupling the hardware dependencies from the software development process. This is done by establishing two parallel development processes for software and hardware running at different speeds. However, different hardware/software separation layers bring different advantages. Each of them must be considered: 

  • The operating system (OS) abstraction layer decouples the OS from the underlying hardware architecture by introducing a virtual environment. This virtual environment provides the needed hardware/software interfaces and functionality used and defined by software. This abstraction is used, for example, for hardware/software decoupling of ECUs and enabling the separation of software development and software tests from physical ECU hardware. Most software tests can be executed in this virtual environment, therefore limiting the final hardware/software integration tests and performance tests to real hardware environment. Additionally, it's possible to upgrade paths to more powerful E/E hardware architectures with significantly lowered integration costs and high software reusability: Software complexity is decoupled from hardware complexity 
  • The onboard network abstraction layer enables virtual ECU integration.It consists of a software-defined vehicle network with virtual network drivers (e.g., vCAN and vEthernet). Most tests of ECU integration with the vehicle network can be executed in this environment. Hardware/Software integration tests are limited to real wire harness tests inside the vehicle. This abstraction isolates the interfaces to the vehicle and enables decoupled E/E architecture development from vehicle development 
  • Function development decoupled from hardware opens the door to post-start of production (SOP) feature deliveries. Differentiating customer functions initiated either by customer requests or market analysis can be implemented in a short timeframe 
  • In-vehicle offboard function development with the use of cloud-backend services can be provided in a seamless way. Mobility services, fleet monitoring with complex safety and security services (which are mandatory for AD) are separated to the cloud backend 


Solution approach 


Cloud automation solutions and the application of CI/CD/CT methodologies have many uses: Scaling up test environments with virtual hardware-targets; providing the needed test capacity for speeding up automated software test case execution; and for achieving high software test coverage in a shorter time. The same applies for virtual ECU integration tests. 

Integration time for hardware/software is significantly reduced by focusing on the mandatory hardware/software integration tests and eliminating manual debugging of software on expansive hardware targets or test vehicles. Furthermore, function development is faster-matured and the requirements on hardware are settled earlier:

Software drives hardware development. 

The software is developed as a product and additional software milestones must be introduced after SOP deliveries by leveraging OTA capabilities for software updates in the field. 

In-vehicle functions using backend services isolate in-vehicle software complexity to the cloud backend (with its rich software complexity management capabilities). 

Software lives on after SOP, while the substructure of hardware (vehicles) evolves in generations the vehicle generations always get the appropriate software status. The digital lifecycle process manages and updates this software over its lifetime. 


Start early, take the lead 


There are many advantages to incorporating hardware/software decoupling right from the beginning by introducing a software-first development approach:

  • Shorten the development cycle by at least 6 months 
  • Gain SOP stability and predictability with higher test coverage and software-quality 
  • Reduce development costs after the initial seed and introduction phase 
  • Create new value streams through software as a product, software delivery and rollout leveraging OTA capabilities