Detroit, MI--To anyone walking the aisles of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Show in February, it quickly became obvious that electronics are rapidly controlling more and more functions of the automobile.
Occupancy sensing systems (for airbag deployment), collision avoidance systems, electronic engine control units--even smarter crash-test dummies--were just some of the highlights of the show. And increasingly, electronic technologies such as drive-by-wire systems that eliminate the reliance on mechanical components are being taken seriously.
In fact, electronics have become so embedded in automobile design that the distinction between electrical and mechanical systems has already blurred. "I can't tell you what percent of our business is electronics anymore, because it is so much a part of everything we do," Robert Oswald, chairman, president & CEO of the Robert Bosch Corp., told members of the press.
The largest independent supplier of systems to the auto industry, Bosch--as many of its competitors like Delphi and Visteon--is betting the future on electronics.
In part, new safety and environmental standards are driving the growing use of electronics in automobiles. So, too, are advancements and cost reductions in electronics technology. But Edward Hart, president of Wabash Magnetics Automotive Products Group, a company exhibiting sensor technology at the show, had a different take.
"When I was growing up, we were all car guys. We knew how to take an engine apart and rebuild it," says Hart. "Today, fewer engineers are car people. They're computer people."
No doubt those engineers are going to play an important role in designing tomorrow's automobiles. But for his money, Hart still likes to hire a true car guy (or gal). They have an intuitive feel for how things work, he says, and that's a skill that all the computer power in the world isn't likely to replace anytime soon.
For more information about products from the SAE show see our Show Stoppers section in this issue.