Have you had your coffee today? Then you should be ready for a quick quiz …
Question: “What will Uber, Lyft, aircraft and helicopters soon all have in common? “
Answer: “Certified software testing for UAM (Urban Air Mobility) and eVTOL (Electric Vertical Take-Off & Landing).”
Ahhh, you got that question right? Congratulations on your good brain or good coffee. Had both? Then you’re ready for a more important question:
“Will automotive safety standards apply to these new vehicles or will aviation standards apply?”
Answer: “If it goes airborne horizontally affecting public safety, aviation standards apply.”
Unless you’ve been under 24-hour pandemic lockdown with no internet connection these past sixteen months, you’ve seen the hundreds (likely thousands) of glitzy articles on emerging eVTOL and Urban Air Mobility. If you’ve managed to get vaccinated, mask up, and travel to the key eVTOL makers as this author has for his company AFuzion, then you know eVTOL/UAM are not just the latest popular science fantasy of flying cars. They’re real, they’re flying today, and they’ll be carrying passengers and cargo via pilots in a few short years and autonomously (starting with cargo in less populated areas) a couple of years later.
If you’re into safety-critical engineering (and if you’re not, congratulations on finding this blog between your TikTok and Instagram sessions), then you know that automotive’s ISO-26262 standard followed and liberally copied aviation’s DO-178C for software and DO-254 for hardware. However, aviation also requires an ecosystem of ARP4754A and AP4761 for the aircraft, systems, and safety with experienced practitioners covering both aircraft and automotive agreeing that aviation’s standards are more rigorous; they’re also independently assessed and certified by major country’s certification authorities such as FAA and EASA.
Now, if it is an experimental aircraft, space tourism related, or vertically launched rockets, these civil aircraft standards do not formally apply. If you’re a really smart and wealthy almost-astronaut, you’ll make your avionics suppliers follow DO-178C even if the FAA won’t. And this all means that this ecosystem of aviation standards DO apply for eVTOL/UAM.
Under DO-178C, UAM software testing focuses upon the following four areas in priority and sequential order:
The following figure depicts the relationship between the above four areas of testing required by DO-178C:
For software suppliers well-versed in automotive but less so in aviation, eVTOL and UAM software testing will need to address the following gaps: