In the last article, Body Electrics?, I mentioned the term electronics alongside electrical, this was done as the two areas are inseparable in so much as electronic systems tend to control electrical systems in the modern motor vehicle. Good examples of this are the electronic timer for intermittent wiper operation and the memory function found on quite a few electrically adjustable seats.
The advance in vehicle electronics has been almost meteoric with high end vehicles fairly bristling with as many as fifty or more micro-processors controlling everything from suspension settings to cabin temperature.
So why have all this electronic wizardry? In most instances the greater the number of systems installed by manufacturers which have a range of adjustment the greater the scope for high end electronic control, this leads to the reason for the subject of this article; because of the number of computer systems fitted their efforts affect the vehicle has a whole rather than just one particular area. Take for example a car being driven along a road which twists and turns, it starts to rain so the wipers operate by themselves regulating their own start/stop cycle, the driver presses on with his journey increasing speed, a road speed signal is fed to the suspension computer along with information from other sensors indicating vehicle pitch and yaw, this then alters the stiffness of the suspension enabling better handling, the processors involved with steering reduce the degree of power assistance which increases the feel available to the driver. All along, the engine and gearbox ECUs are communicating to give the best response in relation to driver input selecting the best gear option for the engine speed; the driver accelerates ignoring the deteriorating road conditions and starts to attack the on-coming bends, inevitably the driver starts to lose control and in a split second the engine power has been greatly reduced, the correct gear has been selected, suspension adjusted selectively and the brake computer has started to organise brake control as appropriate to bring the vehicle back into a stable condition. Without the driver making a move away from the steering wheel, a whole raft of operations have been carried out within a very short period of time, non of this would have been remotely possible without the intervention of microprocessors communicating with each other at a phenomenal rate.Â
Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as future developments go. We have all witnessed the meteoric advances in home computing technology over the past few years and exactly the same thing is happening with automotive electronics, multiple systems collaborating to give control over the whole unit whether that be a 44 tonne truck, a family saloon car or a multi user home PC. It is almost impossible to predict what the impact will be over the next twenty years of these advances but many venture to say that the driver will become more and more a passenger leaving the negotiation of point A to point B to a small bundle of silicon chips!