Your car is a powerful computer.
Computerization has revolutionized how cars work, how they are made and how we view them.
The first computers began appearing in cars in the 1970s to handle basic functions such as transmission shifting and ignition timing. Today, computers in cars are becoming even more common as manufacturers introduce new automated safety features, performance enhancements, and more. Your car is quickly becoming a computer on wheels.
Your Car’s Computer
Car’s today can have as many as 50 different computer systems in them. These computer systems control a huge number of things in your car including:
- Engine controls to meet emissions standards
- Safety features
- Comfort and convenience features
Engine Control Module
Your Engine control module (ECM) is the main computer system of your car. This computer controls your engine’s performance and drivability systems. The sensors in your car’s engine relay’s information to the ECM. This information is used to calculate and tune systems in your car for the best power, fuel efficiency, and monitors emissions.
Before emissions laws were set, it was possible to build a car without a computer. However, now all cars have at least one computer system – the ECM. This system is in charge of monitoring engine emissions and adjusting your engine to keep emission levels low. This computer system in your car receives information from different sensors in your car including:
- Oxygen Sensor
- Air Pressure Sensor
- Air Temperature Sensor
- Engine Temperature Sensor
- Throttle Position Sensor
- Knock Sensor
Using the information from these different sensors your car’s computer regulates different systems in your car – such as the fuel injectors, spark plugs, idling speed and more. By regulating these things your car is able to keep emissions as low as possible. The computer uses these sensors to determine when something is wrong or performing incorrectly and can alert the driving with a check engine light.
Throughout the last decade safety systems in cars have evolved and become commonplace. These safety systems are controlled by your car’s computer and offer drivers features such as: ABS, airbags, traction control, stability control, and backup cameras.
Automatic braking systems (ABS) are a standard feature on most modern cars. If you don’t respond to a sudden braking situation fast enough your ABS works to help you avoid a crash, and reduce the severity of a crash. The system essentially works to have the car’s computer take over and brake for the driver.
Backup cameras are becoming more and more commonplace in the cars on the road. These backup cameras can provide aid to the driver when getting in and out of parking spaces and driveways. These cameras are designed to help drivers avoid backup collisions.
Comfort and Convenience
Car computers help to contribute a lot to the comfort and convenience we have come to associate with modern vehicles. Computers control features like:
- Keyless car entry
- Car security systems
- Climate control systems
- Motorized seats and mirrors
- Audio systems
- Cruise control
A modern car, especially high end and luxury vehicles and cars that have more features for driver comfort and convenience, are now giant rolling computer systems. The more comfort providing features in your car, the more computer technology it is using.
The Future of Car Computers
The automotive industry is going through one of the biggest periods of change in its history. Vehicles have a growing number of computer’s inside of them to power new technology and this trend does not seem to be slowing down.
The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas presented many new automotive tech highlights and concepts. This event has increasingly become a way for manufacturers to preview their concepts and ideas in car technology.
AI in Cars
This year’s CES saw a huge focus on how AI will be used in cars of the future – essentially the ability to turn your car into a personal voice assistant that recognizes a huge variety of commands. Other communications related innovations included “brain to vehicle” technology, essentially a computer system that allows your car to read immediate feedback on your comfort while driving.
There was also a spotlight on self-driving car technology. Essentially, self-driving cars are a computer that would handle all driving functions of your car, including collision avoidance, parking assistance, emergency braking and more. With many big companies (such as Google) exploring the self-driving vehicle market, we expect to see this technology available sooner rather than later.