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Computerizing the Driving Experience

The cars of today are a far cry for what they used to be in the last half of the preceding century. It used to be luxury owning one. For some brands, it still is. But for the majority of cars on the road, the impetus for marketing one has grown beyond mere stylish sybaritic comforts to get you from one place to another. Sure, they all do in varying degrees. But even luxury cars have to bow to the manufacturing demands resulting from both political and earthly exigencies of the times requiring car making strategies that address two major areas. These are Environment Friendliness and Fuel Efficiency.

Hybrids Emerging

Used to be the subject of science fiction, electric cars are now a reality. But their practical usefulness is often impaired by limited mileage that behooved automakers to continue with the combustion engine that still require fossil fuels to run in various mix with other high octane substances like ethanol and diesel products. So what you have is called a hybrid - a mix of electrically driven and engine-driven cars that are computer controlled to give the right mix in either parallel or series configuration that can efficiently propel the automobile.

All the new cars are hybrids in either parallel or series configuration or both. The sub compact Hondas and Toyotas lead the market for cars that has proven to be practical for city driving and still provide value in terms of fuel efficiency and meeting strict emissions for an environmentally acceptable car.

Computers Everywhere

Every year new automobile models come out that seem to increase in complexity. Cars on the road are running computers as they often use dozens of microprocessors to control just about every electro-mechanical functions. The main components are sensors that feed data to on board computers that have made driving a breeze. From cabin control, cruise control, engine diagnostics and control, to braking and tire conditions, sensors are just about everywhere on even an economy subcompact car.

A modern ECU or engine control unit is a computer in itself, using 32-bit microprocessors that control the gathering of engine data from dozens of disparate sensors monitoring all aspects of engine performance. From sensing coolant temperatures to the amount of carbon monoxides in the exhaust, the ECY performs the calculations to determine the best spark timing, fuel mixes and how long the fuel injector remains open. Not only does the ECY do this to optimize engine performance, it does to ensure the highest mileage and the least emissions.

The cabin of SUVs and cars are no less complex. You have a dashboard that's essentially a computer display panel with many models using LCD mounted displays instead of the usual mechanical gauges. Sensors are just as numerous, telling the driver which door remains open, seatbelts not locked, as well as monitoring creature comforts like entertainment systems, air conditioning and heating systems. Driving itself is mostly controlled by computers to assist the driver in cruise controls, ride stiffness or softness and gear shifts.

What's Next?

The next step is almost a natural - the intelligent car. There are already high end cars from noted luxury brands with smart security systems for driver recognition, keyless access and ignition as well as utilizing GPS navigation and total shut down in the event it gets stolen. A smart car for a smart home? Why not? GP
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