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.
I have to agree with Alex about the trend of loading up modern vehicles with too much electronics, especially for the average consumer. I have a pretty new car loaded with GPS, rear-view camera, built-in bluetooth, etc. For the life of me, I can't figure out how to use all of this stuff and forget about trusting the camera for backing up--no can do.
I can't even imagine relying on all the sensors and other electronics involved in automatic parallel parking or waking up the driver in the event they fall asleep at the wheel. While there's definitely a role for modern technology, at what point is it overkill, over complicated, and more of a detriment in terms of driver distraction?
I used to think of a car as a mechanical system with some electronics. In the past six months, it's clicked into my head that the modern automobile is actually an electronics platform, with (usually) an internal combustion engine as a component (sitting in the front like a refrigerator sits in the kitchen), though not necessarily an ICE; it could be a battery pack. Or a fuel cell (well, not really, that's not happening, though that's actually what I believe to be the most promising alternative technology). I guess my point, even though I'm an EE, is I think maybe we've hit a point where there's TOO much electronics in the modern car.
The engineers and inventors of the post WWII period turned their attention to advancements in electronics, communication, and entertainment. Breakthrough inventions range from LEGOs and computer gaming to the integrated circuit and Ethernet -- a range of advancements that have little in common except they changed our lives.
Neil Fromer is the executive director of the Resnick Institute, a program for energy and sustainability at the California Institute of Technology, working to develop new ideas and research technologies related to providing a sustainable future. He spoke to us about the severity of the current drought in California and how solar energy can help prevent such situations in the future.
From home enthusiasts to workers on the manufacturing floor, everyone's imagination is captured by the potential of 3D printing. Prototyping, spare parts creation, art delivery, human organ creation, and even mass product production are all being targeted as current and potential uses for the technology.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.