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Why on-board technology has changed the way we drive

Much of the evolution of electronics in our vehicles has centred on performance, comfort and safety.

  • ECU's

In the late 1960s when I first began driving, the most advanced electronic feature on my car was an AM-FM radio with an eight-track tape player.

Throughout my life, I’ve observed the evolution of electronics in cars, from those clunky AM-FM radios to the sophisticated computerized engines and telematics. (In automotive terms, telematics is the monitoring of a vehicle using on-board GPS and diagnostics systems, to determine a car’s movements and its mechanical operation.)

Much of the evolution in on-board electronics and telematics has centred on performance, comfort and safety. The first electronic control units (ECU’s) in the 1970s appeared on some North American-built cars to regulate timing and transmission issues in an effort to address new emission laws.

In the 1980s, ECU’s were integral to the introduction of anti-lock brake systems, traction control and active suspension systems. In 1997, General Motors introduced its popular on-board telematics feature, OnStar, which heralded a new era of in-car connectivity and communications.

In the past decade or so, ECU’s have played an important role in automotive safety, with forward-collision prevention systems, lane monitoring/lane-departure warning systems, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and backup cameras.

The average new vehicle today contains between 50 and 100 (or more) ECU’s, which communicate with each other to monitor the thousands of electronic signals that pulse through the vehicle at any one time.

Improved vehicle designs and telematics have also resulted in fewer road accidents, and a decline in fatalities resulting from automobile crashes.

Data supporting the link between telematics and automobile safety has caught the attention of auto insurance providers, too. In 2013, an insurance telematics device was installed on a vehicle for the first time in Canada. This is a small wireless device that fits under the steering wheel to collect data about driving habits.

The installation of a telematics device is voluntary; car owners consent to have their driving habits recorded in the hope of reducing their auto insurance premiums. Good driving habits can reduce a driver’s insurance premiums by as much as 25 per cent.

Several Canadian auto insurers provide this service — check with your provider for more details.

Telematics technology also plays a role in the servicing of vehicles. Motorists can receive notifications about their vehicles when problems arise, which are sent to their dealership and the manufacturer as well. Drivers can schedule service appointments with in-dash, in-vehicle voice or mobile applications. This service helps to create better relationships between drivers and dealerships.

ECU's

As automobiles become more reliant on computers, and as vehicles become more integrated into our daily lives, a number of major tech firms (Apple, Google, Microsoft) have recognized the huge market potential of on-board technologies and have aligned themselves with automakers.

These partnerships between tech companies and automakers have led to new developments in in-car connectivity. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (available either as a standard feature or as an option) are operating systems that connect to a car’s audio system to provide navigation, location services, messaging and entertainment apps.

There is no better indicator of how fiercely automakers have embraced on-board technologies than at the annual CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. At CES 2017 in January, nine automotive manufacturers, 11 tier-one auto suppliers, and over 300 vehicle tech-related exhibitors displayed their wares — everything from advanced infotainment systems and biometric fingerprint software to self-driving cars and electric vehicles.

Also Read: BMW showcasing HoloActive Touch at CES

In the past few years, automakers have accelerated the pace of innovation in on-board computers and telematics, which is creating not only safer cars to drive and more enjoyment for car lovers of all ages — especially those old enough to remember when AM-FM Radio and eight-track tape players were the ‘must have’ features on cars.

This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to [email protected] or go to tada.ca. Larry Lantz is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is a new-car dealer in Hanover, Ont.

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