The history of the car computer

The car is a very complicated thing in the modern world, with a host of mechanical and electronic systems working together to keep the car running and maintain its operating levels at peak efficiency. The engine control unit is the heart of a car’s electronics, performing millions of processes every second to make fine adjustments to actuators based on information the central CPU gets from various sensors in real time. This goes along with the transmission control unit, which ensures that gear changes within automatic cars are more efficient. These car computers not only keep the car running, but also minimize the amount of fuel wasted, keeping efficiency and economy at a high level, while helping to protect the environment with minimal emissions.

Today’s automobiles present a stark contrast between now and the early days of the automobile. From the turn of the century, when the first commercial automobiles emerged, until the late 1960s, there were obviously no electronic components, and vehicles were simply designed and included simple and robust mechanical control parts and basic control methods. Back then, a better car meant a car with a bigger engine, more speed, and more horsepower, with little attention paid to efficiency, economy, and the environment. However, the environmental issue, and certainly the economic issue, became increasingly pronounced in the 1970s, with the inclusion of mandates, and the notorious fuel crisis of the mid-1970s.

Around the same time, electronic technology was getting to the point where it could physically be included in cars, along with the transmission from carburetors to fuel injection, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that electronics became sufficiently practical and economical to be included. Control over ignition in order to minimize fuel usage drove the car’s electronics. The first pieces of circuitry used to control spark timings were large solid-state pieces of circuitry and would need to be replaced every few years. By the mid-1980s, the industry would be based on fully electronically controlled fuel injection.

Naturally, as commercial electronics flourished in the 1980s and 1990s, becoming smaller, cheaper, and more sophisticated, in-car on-board computers would take on more and more functional responsibilities, sensing more and more data and controlling more and more aspects of the car’s engine, among other things like braking and climate control. In fact, it wasn’t long before the computer became the central and integral component of the car.

With the rise of the computer came the potential for customization, with access to a programmable computer giving immense control over a vehicle’s horsepower and other variables.

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