Last month, NI (the company previously known as National Instruments) held its annual NI Week event in Austin, TX. While I was unfortunately unable to attend, I did follow the news from the conference closely. NI is a leading manufacturer of automated test equipment and virtual instrumentation software, which means that even if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve probably used a lot of the technology it helped enable (4G and 5G connectivity, for example).
While numerous announcements came out of the event, I wanted to highlight a few related to the automotive tech industry. Between the rising popularity of EVs (electric vehicles) and the development of increasingly autonomous vehicles, the sector is undergoing a significant transformation. You’ll frequently find NI on the bleeding edge of emergent technologies, given the technology before it goes public. Let’s look at what NI is doing to enable the next generation of high-tech vehicles.
First, NI unveiled its latest Battery Test System (BTS), designed to test electric vehicle batteries. Batteries are perhaps the single most integral component to the electrification of vehicles and movement away from fossil fuel dependence. In the early days of EVs, the short distance you could go between charges was a significant inhibitor of adoption (to say nothing of the vehicles’ prohibitively high price tags). Despite much innovation and improvement, the battery is still key to unlocking the sustainability, safety, cost and performance needed to encourage widespread consumer buy-in to EVs. Unfortunately, improving, innovating on and testing these EV batteries puts a massive strain on engineering resources; frequent changes to the testing requirements force design and test groups to continuously upgrade and adapt.
NI promises its BTS solution will make this process easier for Tier 1 suppliers and automakers, enabling them to test their batteries at scale, out-of-the-box, with customization capabilities to satisfy a variety of test roles and needs. The system is software-connected, allowing customers to integrate components such as power electronics, environmental chambers, measurements and test channels, at scale, within their testing. Additionally, the system facilitates communication and coordination between testing and design teams on items such as the configuration, running and monitoring of tests and the requesting and reporting of results. Moreover, NI says the BTS solution will help engineers deliver on EV timelines, within the budget and at the pace of market demands.
Fleet on the street
NI also announced, in league with several partners, the deployment of a fleet of ADAS research vehicles in Europe, the U.S. and China. These automobiles, outfitted with data recording and storage technology from NI and Seagate Technology and integration services from ADAS providers Konrad Technologies and VSI Labs, will gather high-quality data to train, test and validate ADAS perception algorithms and hardware. While NI, Seagate and Konrad Technologies have collaborated in the past, this marks the first initiative with U.S.-based ADAS-research firm VSI Labs on board.
This data—and a lot of it—is crucial for developing safe autonomous vehicles and bringing them into the mainstream. ADAS systems are incredibly complex, with safety features dependent on data from many different sensor modalities—camera, radar, lidar, ultrasonics, and vehicle networks, just to name a few. Complicating matters even more, the data from these disparate sources must be recorded synchronously and analyzed to train and validate safety features. The more real-world data, the safer these systems will be.
Partnerships like this are essential when trying to bring new technology like autonomous driving to market—cooperation in the development phase ideally helps to ensure all the different pieces ultimately play well together. NI says this collaboration will better enable a connected ADAS and AD engineering workflow by “combining best-in-class technologies across the global ecosystem.”
It’s good to see NI doing what it does best in the AV/EV space. Again, widespread adoption of these vehicles will ultimately depend on how safe and reliable the public perceives them to be. There’s no company whose testing and validation solutions I trust more to make safe, autonomous vehicles a reality. I’ll continue to watch with interest.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.