Automotive Electronics Get You Plugged Into Safety

We live in an age of information and technology that has made everything around us smarter. Electronic and digital components have made life easier in our homes, offices, and automobiles.

Some gadgets and gizmos, like nose hair trimmers, could easily disappear without much fuss. There are many intelligent tools, on the other hand, that make our lives more convenient and safer on a daily basis.

The vast world of “smart” technology is ruled by automotive electronics. Indispensable features, such as anti-lock braking systems and electronic stability control, are prime examples of smart and safe automotive electronics.

Recent developments by industry experts have created a huge increase in the number of electronic devices installed at automotive plants. Just to give you an idea of how quickly cars have evolved electronically, the Apollo 11 space craft traveled to the moon and back using a mere 150 kilobytes of onboard memory. It’s remarkable to think that the typical CD player uses a whopping 500 kilobytes just to keep our favorite songs from skipping. Listening to uninterrupted music is a mere iota of how electronics have impacted a car’s performance in order to benefit drivers.

“Telematics” is a term used for the technology involved in automobile communication systems. This word was first used to describe the blending of telecommunications and “informatics”, or information technology. In recent years, this industry has commanded increased attention from car manufacturers. In the mid-1990s, industry insiders predicted that telematics would become “the” go-to technology. It was expected to increase overall sales and, more importantly, transform the automotive industry into a major player in mobile technology.

These promising forecasts panned out to be a little less than initially predicted. As more conservative measures were considered, the initial industry projection of over $40 billion dollars has been whittled to about half.

By no means do these numbers indicate an abandonment of the development of telematics technology. Automobile manufacturers have, in fact, invested an average of $2000 on electronic systems for every vehicle coming off the line. That’s a huge increase over the $110-per-car budget set in the early 1970s. The spending increase is reflected in everything from better engine performance and improved entertainment systems, to security features and safety devices. All of the electronic components work together to provide drivers with more comfortable, better performing and safer automobiles.

Here is an outline of some of the more common smart and safe automotive electronics systems:

Controller Area Network (CAN)

More than one computer runs your car. There is actually a network of computers called the Controller Area Network (CAN). Like a LAN (Local Area Network) that’s commonly used in home and business computers, the CAN links computers together. In your vehicle, the CAN basically links the many separate computer systems together and allows them communicate with each other. These interconnected systems involve everything from critical systems like engine management, cruise control and anti-lock brakes and cruise control, to less-demanding applications like automatic window and seat controls.

Increased Fuel Efficiency

Shrinking resources and soaring fuel prices have forced automotive manufacturers to increase their supply of fuel-efficient vehicles. Smart auto makers are using new automotive electronics to create cars that burn fuel more efficiently. This is most evident with the common EFI, or electronic fuel injection system. Hybrid vehicles have taken this technology one step further, with electronic devices that allow drivers to switch automatically between gas and electric engines.

Safety Devices

There are two types of devices designed to protect the safety of the driver and passengers: active and passive devices.

* Active safety devices: These are systems that constantly work to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers. Examples of active safety devices are dynamic steering response (DSR), traction control (TCS), and acceleration slip regulation (ASR). While the average driver may not notice these systems at work, they are constantly sensing road and driving conditions and adjusting the car’s performance accordingly to create a safer ride. Electronic Stability Control has been shown by researchers to have a large safety benefit in reducing single vehicle skids.

* Passive devices: These features may be more visible and seem simpler, but they are also controlled by smart and safe automotive electronics. Through developments in electronics and technology, the deployment of airbags has been improved tremendously over the years. Early-model airbags deployed too early or too late, providing little or no benefit to the driver and passengers. Today’s cars feature more advanced systems that are actually programmed to sense the conditions that can lead to a high collision impact. Airbag and seating adjustment systems can be deployed to minimize the impact and decrease the degree of injury to the people inside the vehicle.

When you consider the safety advancements that have been made in just a decade, you’ll agree that today’s cars are miles above their predecessors. Our automobiles provide so much more than a lift from point “A” to point “B”. With smart automotive electronics, every trip is as comfortable, secure and safe as possible.