Automotive Engineers Packing Cars with More Electronics

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Cars of the future will have almost as much electronics as today's Learjets. Some estimates suggest that by the end of the decade, over 40 percent of an automobile's cost will be in electronics.

Cars are already packed with such cutting-edge features as telematics (blending computers and wireless telecommunications), DVD/video, satellite radio, GPS navigation, automatic climate control, electronic stability control, power doors, seats, mirrors and windows—the list goes on and on.

Of course, there are seemingly endless electronic circuits linking, connecting and performing hundreds of functions every second—devices that you don't see or hear, but simply take for granted. In the last 10 years virtually every system that was once actuated by mechanical or hydraulic linkage has been replaced by an electronic sensor and switch/relay. Your car's brakes, airbags and steering are today mostly controlled by electronic control units (ECUs).

Sensors throughout your new car constantly monitor for maintenance, flashing an LED indicator on your dash if your oil is getting too old or your tires are under pressure. Some cars even park themselves. Others have cameras in the rear bumper to keep drivers from backing over a bicycle.

The big challenge facing automotive engineers will be to ensure these various ECUs (as many as 50 in some high-end vehicles) and their software programs communicate with each other. Keep in mind that these ECUs and the software that controls them are produced by different companies. If they can't talk to each other, you might have the sunroof open up when you adjust the windshield wipers.

On a personal note, I was dismayed to discover that the accelerator pedal on my truck is no longer mechanically linked to the fuel injection system. It's now a rheostat that electronically sends a message to the fuel injection system to speed things up. So much for putting the pedal to the metal.

For an additional perspective, check out the video, Driverless Cars in the new Millennium II

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Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of published articles on health/fitness, "green" issues, TV/film entertainment, restaurant reviews and many other topics. As a former Andy/Belding/One Show ad agency copywriter, he also writes web content, ads, brochures, sales letters, mailers and scripts for national B2B and B2C clients.

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