Today, it's hard to imagine an automobile without electronic control. Microcontrollers for engines, transmissions, airbags, brakes, and stability control systems are taken for granted. We expect them to be down there, communicating across databases with such names as CAN, LIN, and FlexRay.
But automotive electronic controls haven't remained stagnant. Today's intelligent navigation systems can watch traffic. Vehicles can parallel-park themselves. Manufacturers are incorporating adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping, and camera-based collision avoidance.
Engineers are keeping an eye on the distant future, too. In the agricultural world, tractors can now drive themselves. Experimental street vehicles have done the same in DARPA's Grand Challenge.
In this slideshow, we've corralled developments in automotive electronics, from the advances in collision avoidance to the far-reaching technologies of autonomous vehicles.
Click on the image below to begin the slideshow:
Using a vehicle-to-grid strategy in the future, electric car batteries will be able to dump energy back onto the grid when utilities need help. A grid interface on a prototype Ford Escape plug-in hybrid allows users to control the time of re-charging and check the costs of electricity on the grid at any given moment. (Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Co.)
To keep up with our Chevy Volt coverage, go to Drive for Innovation and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director, Brian Fuller. On his trip, sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is driving a Volt across America to interview engineers.
Cars do indeed have to many processors and controllers. Multicore will certainly not improve things or reduce the number of them, it will only serve to increase both complexity and price, particularly price to repair them. Likewise, reliability will dive as more functions get mired in poorly written code.
Remember a few years back, when the car was going to have one giant control module and everything was going to be multiplexed, and the car would only have 3 wires? Now, primarily in the search for "product differentiation", every chunk of hardware that does anything spots it's own microcontroller. Worse, each of these little gimmics is vying for a bit of driver attention. The next goal is full internet connectivity and content, with location prompted advertising. Full time distraction coming to a vehicle, even dispite driving being a full time task.
The problem with all of the automation is that it is not able to deal with the exception correctly, every time, always. Drivers often can respond correctly, if they are not distracted, and if they are allowed to respond correctly. BUt the programmed systems can never be right all the time, because they can't ever be programmed that way.
The solution is not better programming, it is getting rid of much of the automation and allowing the driver to be in control. The system can record just what the driver did, so as to either clear him or to nail him. Of course this reduces privacy, but on the roads we could use some accountability, not privacy.
Some humanoid walking robots are also good at running, balancing, and coordinated movements in group settings. Several of our sports robots have won regional or worldwide acclaim in the RoboCup soccer World Cup, or FIRST Robotics competitions. Others include the world's first hockey-playing robot and a trash-talking Scrabble player.
A recent example of a major CAE revamp is MSC Apex, released last month by MSC Software Corp. In a discussion with Design News, MSC executives noted that its next-generation platform is designed to substantially reduce CAE modeling and process time, “in some cases from weeks down to hours.”
The Thames Deckway would run for eight miles close to the river’s edge, rising and falling slightly with the tidal cycle. It will generate its own energy from a series of devices that will line the pathway and use a combination of sources to make the path self-sustaining.
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