Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The new "Car"ma

Daimler-Chrysler recently launched the new Mercedes C and S class. The wonderful thing about it is the presence of a hard-disk on board. This sort of partly fulfils my prediction dated as far back as 1992! It was the time I just introduced to the microprocessor. I was fascinated by what it could do. I had ventured that this programmable piece of electronics was what was needed in the automobile! And along with the micro-processor, there was needed a hard-disk! It brings to one of my most favourite topic of electronics in automobiles. It also gives me confidence to un-veil some of the electronics usage in automobiles.
Pieces of the puzzle!

We observe a lot of developments in different technologies that could make an impact in this field:

  1. Micro-processors are ubiquitous!
  2. Memory is easily available.
  3. Cellular infrastructure is in place! Also GPS systems are already being installed on vehicles.
  4. Sensor technologies are well developed. We already have rain sensors, backing sensors, cameras on board, light sensors etc.
  5. Short range information exchange technologies are available for example, RFID.
  6. Display technologies are well developed, a case in point is the new Honda Civic!

Connecting the dots…Car as a gizmo!

To connect the dots we can look at the development of military hardware. We can hazard a few guesses.

We will see more customizable displays in dashboard. For example, the new speedometer is Civic could be customised into a tachometer! We can also expect the LCD screens on the rear passengers to read out the dashboard so that passengers can keep a check on the chauffer! It will also mean that the dashboard space can actually replace speedometer and other read-outs with camera images while backing up or parking.

Your car will be much more integrated with the manufacturer. The manufacturer can put-in a SIM card to transmit the operation data from the car back to factory test centre! In fact soon you could get a call from your manufacturer informing you that your radiator temperature is suboptimal and you need to bring in the car for repair / maintenance.

The revolution will actually happen when automobiles are integrated with traffic system. This will give a whole new meaning to traffic management systems. In fact we may even get some public announcements being relayed into the car speakers! There a possibility for vehicle to vehicle interaction as well. This will give the driver alerts on obstacles beyond the vehicle in the front giving precious seconds for response in case of accidents. Evolved safety systems depending on faster response, automatic collision avoidance etc. will make life easier and safer for passengers and pedestrians. We can very well look forward to “no overtaking” warnings and “vehicle closing-in” alerts.

We can expect vehicles to have access card system to grant access to various systems. If your card has information that you are an authorized driver for relevant vehicle type then the vehicle will work else it will not turn the ignition on.

In Sum

These developments are all a matter of time. Yet these gizmos are virus-prone. We noticed in Mumbai floods that cars with lot of electronics actually ended up worse-off than plain simple mechanical ones. Devices like power windows turned cars into death traps. So we need effective failure-proofing of these technologies before they get into our garages! All said we are looking into a fantastic future for gizmo lovers!