Going Auto: The Advantages of Automated Testing
OEMs face many challenges when testing safety-critical systems, not least regarding test efficiency and effectiveness. How do they overcome these?
Testing is essential for safety-critical systems in any industry. This will almost inevitably have to comply with a variety of strict standards. It will also inevitably involve the same scenarios being run over and over again, changing a single variable to fully assess its impact on the product at hand and its performance in different circumstances.
Naturally, both of these will likely increase the amount spent on testing, as well as the time it takes for the testing to be carried out. For OEMs under pressure, these challenges alone can prove an issue. Knowing how to navigate these challenges is therefore all-the-more important.
It’s All in the Design…
At its most basic level, testing automation has the potential to save time and money. Yet to achieve these savings, a strategy must be devised to ensure the right aspects of the testing process are streamlined, while also maintaining the integrity of the testing.
Test set design is key to implementing automation. Once a test set has been fully built, automation removes the need for the engineer to be present at the end of each step to record results and initiate the next stage. As well as this, automated testing is capable of running multiple test scenarios within short periods of time, something a manual process simply couldn’t achieve. For instance, a testing regime that would – if performed manually – last over a month can be reduced to mere days, yet still provide the same outcome of a fully-tested product which meets industry standards.
One of the main issues faced in terms of testing safety-critical products is the need for rigorous verification regimes. These processes are usually long and laborious, but entirely necessary to ensure compliance with various safety standards. Yet automated testing can help with that.
Test automation has made inroads in making software verification simpler, quicker, and more effective. Yet, while this is an enviable goal, verification processes still need to be sufficiently rigorous in making sure software is safe to use. Equally, the processes need to produce consistent results across a particular industry or a series of industries. Standards such as IEC 61508 and MIL-STD-882E help in regulating safety-critical software and assuring its security. Both require the analysis of code to assess software functionality and its safety qualification, allowing for peer-to-peer comparison in terms of the level of risk involved in its use, which in turn provides the opportunity for developers to mitigate risk in their software. All of this makes test automation safer, and more promising, in the long-run.
Removing the ‘Human’ from ‘Human Error’
Automated testing is not only more efficient than manual testing, but – somewhat counterintuitively – it is also more accurate.
Why? Because the ‘human’ in ‘human error’ is removed from the process. It is well-documented that human error can lead to a phenomenon known as testing fatigue, where the monotony of performing manual testing means human testers are more likely to make mistakes when carrying out said tests. This may include post-completion errors, where a sub-task within the wider testing activity is not completed correctly or missed altogether due to a lack of attention to detail. One study in which a group of software programmers were required to perform the same task has shown that 41.8% of these committed the same post-completion error, despite each of them working separately.
Fortunately, a well-designed automated testing model will remove the likelihood of these errors. While this will likely require more work at the beginning of the process, in terms of designing and implementing a satisfactory testing model which in itself doesn’t succumb to human error, once the testing is underway chances are that the tests will run smoothly.
Test, Test, and Test Again
Automated testing, through enabling identical testing conditions and reducing the possibility of human error, is perfect for situations where repeated system tests are necessary. Testing processes can be initiated with minimal manual intervention and follow a set of rules which should be clearly defined in the test design with automation in mind. A properly planned and repeatable test can reduce costs, resulting from not needing anyone to man the test for its duration, as well as improve accuracy.
Repeatability is especially important when considering the benefits of automated regression testing. Repeatable automated tests ensure that as little time and money as possible is spent on running tests which are integral if guaranteeing whether the latest patch or update addition won’t negatively impact the functioning of the entire system.
A greater code coverage when testing means fewer bugs can creep into the system at any point, as a larger proportion of the system can be attended to. Targeted automation also means that major sections of code can be tested and bugs eliminated, while other peripheral areas can be dealt with by human testers. Once again, automation on its own cannot provide all the answers; it needs to be coupled with a clear strategy as to which areas automated testing will be applied to, allowing for less time-consuming areas to be managed by human testers.
Alongside this, increasing test coverage breadth naturally supplements the other benefits mentioned here, be it improving testing efficiency and ensuring that any bugs or errors that enter into the system are kept to an absolute minimum.
The Future is Automated
Automated testing brings with it a number of benefits, none more important than the cost and time savings it encourages. In an age when new products need to be produced fast to keep up with competition yet also be fully compliant with industry standards, streamlining these processes while maintaining their integrity is critical. For instance, Critical was able to reduce test times from over a month to just two and a half days, alongside adding the functionality to repeat tests as well as regression testing to the testing procedure.
Read our case study to find out more about how Critical has brought effective automated testing solutions to our clients.