Using a computer to control a car makes sense, but when something goes wrong, it goes really wrong
- Many cars have more lines of code than a jet fighter plane.
- But computer problems are giving car companies like Toyota a run for their money.
If you haven't been following Toyota's troubles with the computers that help make its cars go, here's a little background. Computers on wheels. Today, on Engineering Works! Listen to the podcast.
Computers and cars have been rolling along together for quite a while now. Henry Ford wouldn't know what to think.
The first computer control unit in a production automobile seems to be one in a 1977 Oldsmobile Toronado that controlled spark plug timing in the engine. In 1978, the Cadillac Seville had a trip computer controlled by a computer chip. By 1980, electronic control units operated exhaust emission control system in several cars.
These days, microprocessor-controlled devices, or electronic control units, keep track of and operate all sorts of things. Acceleration and braking, the features that bedevil Toyota. Brakes, cruise control, engine valve timing, anti-skip brakes, traction control, door locks.
It's not just high-end vehicles. Even basic econoboxes usually have at least 30 of them. Some luxury cars have as many as 100. And these are not simple little chips. Many of the cars and trucks we drive have at least 100-million lines of computer code on board. That's more than many jet fighter planes.
Using computers to help operate the vehicle makes sense. They can process information from sensors in vehicle operating systems almost instantaneously and act on it much faster than human drivers can. But when something goes wrong, sometimes it's really wrong.
Engineering Works is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station.