While 200mph speeds are not uncommon for IZOD IndyCar racers, their electronic systems are in many ways simpler than those found in many passenger cars designed for public highway speeds. After all, these vehicles do not need an extensive infotainment system, climate control, or security electronics.
But such cars do require specialization in those systems that are onboard to allow teams to optimize performance while maximizing safety. Trevor Knowles, director of engine development for IndyCar and an expert on their electronic systems, notes the difference between IndyCar electronics and those in passenger cars in that racecar electronics are more customized than those in passenger cars because of the unique requirements and lower production numbers.
An IndyCar steering wheel contains the driver's displays and the majority of the electronic controls/switches. (Source: Littelfuse)
Trevor Knowles told us:
Engine control units (ECUs) are designed to be frequently reprogrammed, while a road car unit would normally be sealed. IndyCar ECUs also have 1GB of logging memory, downloadable by CAT5 Ethernet connection. A road car ECU would probably have a lot less memory and it would be accessible only through special hardware.
He said racing teams have to measure many car parameters, not for control but for logging data in order to tune the chassis performance at a track.
Circuit protection in IndyCars also differs from that in passenger cars, according to Dan Woodie, data acquisition specialist at KV Racing Technology. He said that while road cars use fuses, relays, and breakers for protection (with spares needed for replacement in case of failure):
IndyCar electronics are protected by a PDU (power distribution unit) that monitors the current flow and will trip at a pre-set current limit to avoid damage to the (wiring) looms and other equipment. The PDU is remotely monitored, allowing engineers to see a problem before it becomes more serious.
In addition to current limiting, racing electronics need to present minimal hazard during an accident at speeds well above highway limits. "Electronic modules and looms are separated from the driver by Kevlar and carbon fiber panels. The battery, PDU, and other components are outside the driver's compartment," said Woodie. And a master switch accessible to safety crews can cut all electric power and trigger the fire suppression system.
Good point about OBD, 3drob. Increasingly, if you take your car to a neighborhood mechanic for a serious engine problem, they don't have the software to recognize the problem and make the fix. This forces people to bring their cars back to the dealerships in many cases.
Yes, there is a lot to be said for simplicity. I have to hand it to the automotive industry for building cars that last longer than before, but it's still hard to accept the fact that it takes a computer to fix even the smallest item on a car now.
The real problem today is not how complicated any individual system is in a modern car, it's the fact that all the systems are interconnected. And there are more and more of them in cars. You may think the problem is in one system, but the cause is really in another system interconnected thru two other systems. Not only that, but often with a failure in one system, you cannot even get far enough along to troubleshoot. My dad was a mechanic and a regular problem with 1990's era vehicles was the car would die on the side of the road: because the radio stopped working (and don't assume that things are that much better now).
Not only can the weekend mechanic not fix it, often the dealership cannot fix it. What the dealership usually does is to just start replacing things. If they ate the cost of this method, things would improve rapidly, but they don't (we do).
When the economic or legislative pressures on the car manufacturer's hit a breaking point, they will start to add better diagnostics to cars (i.e. OBD didn't happen until mandated).
Rob, excellent point.My wife and I have a Volvo and finding someone to make the necessary repairs when problems arise with electronics is a real pain.We did find an individual but so did every other Volvo owner in the Southeast.He's very good and everyone knows it.Basically, take a number.Automobiles become more sophisticated but in some cases, the ability of the repairmen does not.This continues to be a very real problem in our "neck of the woods".
Ervin, you are right. Most of the mechanical components in automobile are replaced by chip based systems which can make the working principle easier. Now a day’s in car the dash boards are completely automated with micro controller based chip sets and sensors. This includes the pre driving tests like wheel pressure, radiator temperature, brake condition etc. So other than driving, the driver won’t to be bothered about any other things.
Exactly right, Beth. With all the features that are available today, there would be far too many permutations if they let you pick whicever ones you want, so they bundle them. Then you end up getting a lot of features you don't want.
In Aviation It is expensive to certify software. so we use old school logic and analog circuits to this day to make cheaper products. In the Automotive industry to certify software is a simple matter. Still expensive however the volume that automotive has makes the expense managable. The reason for the high tech gadgets is cost reduction. A lot of the circuits in your vehicle can be reduced to single chip or single board circuits due to microcontrollers. Dont forget that most microcontrollers are only 1-10USD a piece. so why not show these gadgets to consumers to increase the hype of new tech and force you to sell your used car for a new one? also keep in mind that new features could mean that the automotive industrie is compensating for some known saftey issue. when you reduce the weight of your vehicle you add more airbags or better bumper to compensate due to a harder deceleration of the vehicle during testing. Simple logic really. When a car dealer tells you that the engine is designed to drop in the event of a catastrophic accident this means that their firewall is much thinner then before and the support for your engine just lost a few pounds too. No safety added really just fuel efficiency and more expensive accidents.
I think in many cases, it's the kitchen sink syndrome. Some of the stuff appeals to the gadget folks who like a lot of bells and whistles, but many of us just want the basics, albeit, the basics to be delivered in a state-of-the-art way. The problem is, the car companies' car packages bundle things together so you often have to opt for the whole electronics she-bang even if you're just looking for a killer stereo system and don't care about GPS or voice control or even a passenger infotainment system.
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