Cars, computers, and constant change

DN Staff

October 7, 2002

4 Min Read
Cars, computers, and constant change

Scott Anderson first joined Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector in 1978 as a microprocessor product engineer, moving on to various engineering product and operation management assignments within a variety of Motorola's divisions. Currently he serves as vice president and general manager of the Transportation & Standard Products Group, Semiconductor Products Sector. He earned a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Utah.

A developer of one of the first thinking devices for the car in the late 1970s, Electrical Engineer Scott Anderson's experience at Motorola includes product engineering for the company's most popular 8-bit MCU architecture, the 6805, 146805 and 68HC05 products. Recently, he shared some thoughts about the growing use of electronics in cars.

Design News: Scott, you've been on four continents in the past three weeks. That's a lot of frequent flier miles! What's keeping you so busy?

Anderson: I've been out talking to design engineers around the world-from China to Brazil-about all the new electronic products Motorola has developed, many of which were developed for automotive and are increasingly used for consumer, industrial, and networking applications. In fact, we'll be introducing twice as many products in the coming year for all these markets. Some of the emerging automotive applications are steer-by-wire and brake-by-wire, intelligent safety systems, and of course the new 42V systems are going to require all kinds of new electronics.

Q: The average high-end luxury car has 70 to 80 microcontrollers-about twice the number of just five years ago. Is this feverish pace going to continue?

A: Yes. In cars, the demand for embedded processing power is continuing to climb, but that's true in many applications such as appliances and consumer electronics. To put things into perspective, the typical washing machine today has 10 to 15 microcontrollers that oversee temperature regulation, balance, and so on. I wouldn't be surprised to see the processing power requirements in cars double in the next five years. As an example, the use of electronic solenoids to open the intake and exhaust valves will increase the amount of processing power required to control the valve timing by as much as eight times.

Q: At what point does the car become an electronic, as opposed to an electromechanical, system?

A: The car has been changing from a mechanical to an electrical system from the day Henry Ford's wife watched a friend get into her car and push a button to start it. Meanwhile, Mrs. Ford had to turn a crank on the front of the car. In very short order, all Ford cars got a starter motor. While in the foreseeable future the car will always have mechanical attributes (tires, wheels, gears, and transmissions, for example), the recent introduction of hybrid vehicles is another step in the evolution from mechanical to electrical. By using an AC induction motor to drive the wheels, it opens up the potential to remove the transmission from the car altogether.

Q: What's the ultimate goal?

A: Fuel-cell vehicles would definitely take the automotive industry closer to a full electronic system. This technology offers a clean conversion of hydrogen energy into electrical energy.

Q: Just because you can create a new feature in a car, the feature may not be a good thing. Can you think of any examples where design engineers misapplied electronics in the car?

A: "Your door is ajar."

Q: What type of car do you drive, and what is your favorite electronics-based feature on it?

A: I bought a Mercedes E-Class last year, and I'd have to say that I personally like the electronic transmission because it allows you to shift as if it were a standard transmission, but it's not.

Q: I thought it might be GPS, given that you were involved in the development of the industry's first trip computer back in the late 1970s.

A: That system which could sense miles per gallon, was amazing for it's time. It was one of the first thinking devices in the car.

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