Today's cars are an innovative blend of mechanics and electronics, a technological hybrid that would have astounded Henry Ford. Microprocessors, originally used by the government to ensure that cars met the standards for fuel efficiency and emissions control, now perform a wide range of tasks from providing a more comfortable interior to better handling and stability. Following are five ways cars are getting better as they become computers.
1. Enhanced Options
Decades ago, a car with an AM and FM radio thrown in was as good as it got for your driving pleasure. Although mass-market personal computers date back to the 1970s, dashboard computer systems known as "infotainment systems" took a few decades to become commonplace.
Almost every vehicle on the market today comes with an infotainment system featuring a high-resolution color display. Some of the enhanced options you can expect include satellite radio, Bluetooth phone and audio, USB connectivity, theater-quality sound, mobile app integration, and Wi-Fi hotspot capability.
As time passes, enhanced options get even better. Tesla's Car Wash Mode is now available on the Model 3 and the Model Y. It's a sort of car wash checklist to get ready for a car wash. For example, it locks the charge port door, disables the windshield wipers, and closes windows or anything that might get water in it.
Tesla's Valet Mode will limit what a valet can do with your car. No more worries when handing the keys over at hotels and parking facilities. Valet Mode limits the car's speed and engine RPM as well as restricts access to certain areas such as the glove compartment and trunk. Other functions Valet Mode disables includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings, navigation, and the appearance of personal information on the display screen.
2. Optimized Performance
The most important role the automotive computer plays is regulating the engine for optimal performance while at the same time improving fuel economy and pollution control. These tasks used to be performed by two critical engine components that are disappearing from the automotive world, the carburetor and the distributor.
In newer cars, the ignition is also computer-controlled - the firing of spark plugs. Plugs are individually regulated by the ignition computer and the timing is fine-tuned should one misfire. The timing gets coordinated to the actions of all the pistons for more efficient production of power.
3. Improved Handling
It may not seem like it, but steering and suspension are related to computers. A car's electric power steering was once described as "light" or "heavy." Today, computers adjust steering efforts electronically.
Computers also control adaptive suspension dampers allowing drivers to choose a mode based on road and driving conditions. For example, Mercedes Benz's Active Body Control has a role-resistance system that keeps the car flat through sharp corners. This is a winning technological innovation for both drivers and passengers.
4. The Use of Sensors
Sensors are critical for enabling computers to improve a car's performance including the correct airflow mixture ratios, determining transmission shifts, and the timing of various operations in the engine. Here are some of the most important ones.
Position sensor: indicates the location of a moving part by varying an electrical circuit's resistance.
Rotation sensor: records the rate at which something spins.
Knock sensor: detects irregular engine vibration caused by uneven fuel burning.
Airflow sensor: measures the air fed to the engine via the intake manifold.
Temperature sensor: measures the temperatures of gas and liquid.
Oxygen sensor: indicates how efficiently fuel is burning by measuring the amount of oxygen in the exhaust.
5. Safer Braking
Consider the following scenario: You're traveling down a narrow road that is slick from rainfall when a car pulls out of a driveway ahead. You slam on the brakes expecting to skid but instead, your car comes to a safe stop. Thanks to a computer linked to electronic sensors near the wheels, the car has essentially pumped the brakes instead of slamming on them just as every driver has been taught to do to avoid a skid. And the beauty is, unlike the driver, the computer can be depended on every time.
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