Advent of Electronics in Vehicles
Evolution of the automobile in the past century is one of the most exciting and nostalgic stories ever to be told. No other industry has a greater impact on world economy. However the most important phase of the automotive history has been in the past 2 to 3 decades starting with the implementation of electronics on a massive scale. It all started with introducing the ECU - Engine Control Unit concerned only with the functions of an engine to improve its efficiency. However as time progressed other systems were incorporated to improve both efficiency and performance of a vehicle. This change in the automotive industry was further complemented by the increase in safety awareness of the general public. Hence the transformation of an automotive from a mechanical machine to a complex network of computers. However this complexity has its share of setbacks. The erstwhile automobile due to its simplicity in construction can be understood by a common man with some introductory training. In the case of the modern automobile it is impossible for a user with limited technical background to understand the intricacies of its control systems. Premium automakers make sure the customers visit their service stations for any diagnostic checks on the vehicle by making the vehicle more complex than ever. But in a case of emergency none of these electronics are under the control of a human which puts everyone in the vehicle at risk. Such was the case of Toyota’s (and Lexus’) unintended acceleration reports in 2009. Almost 2000 vehicle were recalled due to these reports resulting in almost 19 deaths. The problem as reported was that the vehicle did not stop accelerating when the foot was off the throttle. When the operation of a vehicle is dominated by huge number of computers and complex networks there is not much a human driver can do to avoid fatalities in such emergencies. The automaker has paid 1.1 billion dollars and is still fighting the lawsuits from legal agencies and the affected customers.Monetary loss is bad enough but what’s worse is the loss in credibility of a brand name like Toyota.
That being said it is not possible to stop the electronic revolution in the automobiles owing to one unfortunate event. It should be a wake-up call to the automakers and add caution to the procedures and methods in validating various technologies. By taking enough care the joy of innovation can be experienced without the pain of misfortune.