Electronics In Cars

Besides music systems and LCD screens, is there any significant role that electronics plays when it comes to cars? That was a question asked by a reader, and here we attempt to answer it. -- Abhijit Paul Choudhury

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Anti-theft systems. Car alarms are the most popular way of preventing theft. There are different locations where car alarms can be installed. Different forms of sensors allow the possibility of theft to be detected from different points in the car. Some of the popularly used sensors include car-alarm door sensor, car-alarm shock sensor, car-alarm windows and pressure sensor, and car-alarm motion and tilt sensor. The car alarm, in its simplest form, is nothing but one or more sensors connected to some sort of alarm.

Today’s car alarms are much more sophisticated as these contain an array of sensors including the pressure sensor and the motion sensor. A siren of distinct sound could be used to identify a car. An auxiliary battery is used so that the alarm operates even when the main battery is off.

Car misbehaviour management systems. Do cars misbehave?—you may ask. Well, that’s the simplest name engineers could attach to problems that arise when the tyres of your car get punctured or your car skids on a slippery surface.

In order to control the misbehaviour of the car, real-time sensing must be done. This is done with various electronic components, placed at the right locations inside the car, which could monitor the various parts of the car. The areas that are typically monitored include the tyres, engines and brakes. In order to monitor the tyres, pressure sensors are placed on them. These sense the pressure and make the data available on the display screen of the dashboard.

Another ‘misbehaviour’ could be heating-up of the engine. This is monitored by having temperature sensors placed onto the engine, which output signals to the computer unit and the dashboard displays the temperature of the engine.

Personal safety systems. As indicated by the name, here the goal is to use technology for personal safety of the passengers. Primarily, these are warning systems, and sometimes they go to the extent of restraining the car from moving. The most common example is the seat-belt warning system, which is now available in most Indian cars too. Herein, a sensor placed in the seat belt’s clip alerts the driver if the seat belt is not worn. Another example is door sensors, which alert the driver if any of the doors is open.

More sophisticated electronics comes into play in airbag systems. Airbags provide additional safety along with seat belts. An airbag consists of the airbag central unit (ACU), which monitors a number of sensors like accelerometer, impact sensor, door sensor and wheel sensor. Whenever the threshold is reached, the ACU triggers the ignition of the gas generator to rapidly inflate the nylon airbag. As the vehicle occupant collides with the bag, it squeezes the bag and the air escapes through the vent holes.

Accident-avoidance systems. The basic ones alert the driver of possible threats like sharp bends or steep inclines. Advanced systems being worked upon include auto-pilot systems, where the cars would be automatically driven, and with the help of sensors and central GPS mapping systems, chances of collisions or crashing into road dividers would be avoided. Vehicle dynamics integrated management (VDIM) is an attempt in this direction.

As indicated by its name, VDIM is a system that integrates steering, braking, vehicle stability and traction control. It acquires data from the sensors placed throughout the car. The information picked up includes wheel rotation, brake pressure and movement of the car body.

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