As physical prototypes began to grow in complexity, the design and testing of products moved to virtual environments.

“The same needs to happen for electronics and software,” said Marc Serughetti, senior director at design-software manufacturer Synopsys, in a recent Tech Briefs webinar.

Today's autonomous vehicles rely upon an increasingly sophisticated set of electronics. Every Tesla vehicle manufactured in recent months, for example, has included a chip that allows for self-driving .

Serughetti believes that the large physical test bench can be replaced by a virtualization environment – one deployed into a large server farm in order to simulate and debug automotive hardware and electronics.

This process of imitating the behavior of hardware is also known as emulation.

In a live presentation titled Simulation for Testing and Analysis of Autonomous Vehicles, an attendee asked Serughetti:

“What role do you see emulation playing in verification of modern automotive solutions?”

Read Serughetti’s edited response below.

Marc Serughetti, Senior Director, Product Marketing and Business Development, Synopsys: Traditionally, the automotive world has been very serial and working in isolation of each part of the process from the different suppliers, from semiconductors to Tier 1 to Tier 2 OEMs. In this new world of autonomous driving, interconnected systems, and mobility, there needs to be a change toward collaboration. This is a very important trend to understand, in my response to this question.

The second part that is important to understand: When you think about a virtual environment, it’s not about the virtual environment per se. It’s really about: What is the design question you’re trying to answer with the virtual environment? What is the verification or the test you’re trying to do? This could be different at different levels of the supply chain. The key here when we talk about virtual environments is that there is not one virtual environment. There are going to be many different virtual environments that answer different questions.

Now when we bring this to the question of emulation, we’re talking about emulation in terms of the system-on-chip, the microcontroller design, or something you can do to really verify the hardware itself. Emulation plays a role in the modern automotive solution for sure. It’s a role that is essential when it comes to answering the question associated with the detail of the hardware design.

There are multiple types of virtual environments. Some of them will be more hardware-centric; some will extend more toward software. Even in the software world, you may have an environment that will focus more on the low-level software, the software that interacts directly with the hardware. You may have other environments that have a much higher level of abstraction – for example, at the application or the algorithm level. Emulation, in each context, plays a role.

What role do YOU think emulation will play in automotive testing and design? Share your comments and questions below.