DETROIT – Virtual testing and simulation of vehicle electronic systems is nothing new, but Pleasanton, CA-based CPU Tech is taking it to a new level.

Instead of testing bits and pieces of a vehicle's network of electronic and electromechanical devices, its new SystemLab PS Platform Simulator allows software and systems engineers to simulate and validate all of the electronics in a vehicle in real time prior to any hardware being built.

This is key because modern vehicles are becoming incredibly complex, with up to 100 electronic control modules and as many as 10 different systems per vehicle – all interacting. The potential for problems developing early in the design process is high.

This new system enables engineers and software developers to head off many problems before they are designed into physical prototypes, which are manually tested. At that stage, glitches are more difficult to track down and debug, says Robert Beanland, vice president-marketing, CPU Tech.

“What we're offering is a virtualized environment that gives you the same accuracy with much higher visibility, with the same real-time performance,” he says. “And all this can be done before any prototype model is made, running the actual software of the ECUs.

“We're not running some type of version of the software. We're running actual software on actual controllers at real-time speeds,” Beanland says, adding the vehicle simulation easily can be changed from a Ford F-150 to a Ford Focus or any other type of vehicle in just minutes.

What's more, access to the simulation can be controlled, so different supplier tiers can simultaneously collaborate on electronic-system development without worries about compromising proprietary design data or information.

“For the first time you can have different tiers working together in a common environment. It also is remotely accessible,” Beanland says. “It brings a lot of value the first time you can have different tiers working together in a common environment.”

The way the development process works now, once the initial electrical/electronic system is designed, it is passed off to a supplier that brings it back as a mostly finished hard prototype in six to nine months. If there are problems within the prototype, they are difficult to track down.

“We can integrate with all the existing (software) tool environments,” Beanland says. “We're not saying, throw everything else away and do this differently. We're just saying you're missing the step between high-level architectural validation and the physical prototype.”

By bridging that long development gap with suppliers, auto makers can speed product development and save millions in related costs.

Just as virtual prototyping of the vehicle body has reduced the number of physical iterations required to create an exterior design, SystemLab virtual prototypes of whole-vehicle electronics can cut down the number and time required for hardware and software iterations, CPU Tech says.

All the debugging and integration testing can be completed prior to the building of any hardware, company officials say, eliminating the process of finding glitches in rolling prototypes, which can take weeks.

The Platform Simulator was announced in May 2007, after 10 years of research and development, Beanland says.

CPU Tech says the technology already is being used in the development of complex military vehicles, such as the BAE Systems Bradley Combat System. But the company now is branching out into automotive and aerospace. Executives currently are in Detroit making pitches to local auto makers.