Electronic Design

Electronics Redefines The Auto Of The Future

Over the last few years, electronics has pervaded almost every section of the vehicle. Despite that proliferation, though, the value of electronic content in vehicles ranges from a mere 8% to about 15% today. That's a small number compared to the value of modern cars, especially those at the high end. Also, by comparison to other markets, suppliers are limited. As a result, the cost of electronics is higher. In short, car producers haven't tapped the full potential of advances in electronics and associated semiconductors. The automotive-electronics sector is way behind the consumer-electronics sector. According to the Hansen report, electronics just hasn't been a core technology for automakers.

But that scenario is changing rather quickly. Automakers worldwide have realized that electronics is the wave of the future. They're aggressively streamlining their electrical and electronics groups because car designs are changing very fast, notes the Hansen report. Therefore, the future auto is on the road to transformation. That future passenger car and other transportation vehicles were displayed at this year's Convergence 2000 in Detroit, Mich. Attendants caught a glimpse of the vehicles to come down the road in the next few years.

Some of the features currently under development include night-vision sensors, adaptive cruise control, smart air bags, collision avoidance and obstacle detection, wireless multimedia, satellite TV and radio service, and smart cards. Also in the works are sensors to monitor the temperature of tires and keep them cool at all times. Recent incidents with Firestone tires has fueled tremendous interest in this area.

For safety purposes, rear-view mirrors will be video screens that continually scan the view behind the driver using cameras, sensors, and radar. Carbon-monoxide sensors will activate air vents, open windows and shut down engines when the poisonous gas is sensed. Although some features like night-vision sensors, navigation systems, and smart air bags have appeared in select luxury cars, the push is to lower the cost and install them in economy models.

In-vehicle electronics systems capable of recognizing drivers and automatically adapting the settings for temperature, seat position, and radio stations are in progress. Future autos will be completely wired and connected to the Internet and the outside world. These vehicles will feature new power-train controls for greater efficiency, 42-V systems, and the integration of all vehicle controls. Internal electrical distribution or wiring harnesses and connectors are in transition, as new standards are being nailed down.

The traditional dashboard will no longer exist. A fledging software company displayed an in-vehicle information system (IVIS) that allows automakers to manage information flow into a vehicle and limit driver distraction. It provides an LCD panel and integrates peripheral devices, like navigation information, cell phones, PDAs, the radio, and vehicle diagnostics. The smart highway system is also in the works.

As automakers race to realize the full potential of electronics, the car of the future is experiencing a radical change. Mechanical and elecro-mechanical methods are giving way to electrical and electronics technologies. Novel vehicle architectures will be developed, wherein electrical and electronics systems will be designed up-front, and will be included in top-down engineering right from the beginning, states the Hansen report..

Of course, much more is going on than we have room to discuss in this article. Send me your opinions about the auto of the future.

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