By – Nisarg Nirmalkumar

Automobiles have always been thought of as mechanical machines guzzling fuel and throwing out dark smoke. But how many of us have kept up with the advancements in the automotive iElectrification of Automobilesndustry? All the cool things that the James Bond car could do in the movies have almost become a reality now and more features have been added. Automobiles have evolved into Electro-Mechatronic smart systems. Today’s modern cars have over 100 Electronic Control Units (ECUs) built into them. From internal combustion engines to hybrid to pure electric vehicles, many new components have increased the value share of electronics. In this blog we will see what all have got electrified in an automobile.

The basic principle of operation of an engine still remains to be “internal combustion”. But, this is now controlled by computers (called Electronic Control Unit – ECU). An engine ECU controls the operations of the engine by taking inputs from the driver through accelerator pedal and handles the opening and closing of input and output valves. Further the engine ECU also controls the timings and amount of fuel injection and spark ignition (in case of gasoline engines). The valves and injectors are all electro-mechanical actuators built on the principle of electro-magnetism. In mechanical systems, these were controlled by cam and crank synchronization and always prone to mechanical limitations and errors. With ECUs, sensors and actuators, the synchronizations are more accurate resulting in more power, efficiency and smoother engines.

Another major feature of electrification in automobiles is ABS – Antilock Braking System. When brakes are applied, the brake pads are pressed against the disk of the wheels resulting in reduction in speed. During hard braking, the pads lock the wheels which will lead to skidding and losing control of the vehicle. Instead the braking is now controlled by ECU which prevents locking up of wheels during braking, but will apply force on the disk intermittently, thus avoids skidding, the vehicle stays in control and the driver can steer the vehicle safely.

“Electronic stability program (ESP)” is a feature from where the ECU detects loss of traction, controls the functions of each wheel and improves stability of the vehicle. In “cruise control” mode, the ECU maintains the speed the driver has fixed by controlling the injection of fuel to the engine, while the driver can take his foot off the accelerator pedal and only handle the steering wheel. In “adaptive cruise control”, the vehicle is fitted with distance sensors in the front, the ECU calculates the distance from the vehicles ahead and adjusts the speed of the vehicle accordingly. “Start-Stop” has been a phenomenal success, the engine of the vehicle is turned off at the traffic signals when the vehicle comes to a halt and the driver releases the clutch. To start the vehicle again, the driver needs to simply engage the clutch. “Hill hold assist” is another attractive and helpful feature. On a slope, when the driver starts to move the vehicle up hill, “hill hold assist” holds the vehicle from moving back down the slope.

The ECUs constantly monitor the health of the vehicle with the help of sensors and also tried to correct the issues. Where attention is needed, the ECUs warn the driver of the vehicle by turning the malfunction indicator lamp on the dash board. This feature is called “OBD – On Board Diagnostics”. The use of ECUs has also led to easy communication between the vehicle and the outer world. We can now easily connect laptops, tablets or smart phones to the vehicle over the OBD port and read out diagnostics data from the vehicle. Through infotainment system of the vehicle, the vehicle can now be connected to the outer world through wireless internet, thus contributing to “IoT – internet of Things”.

“Autonomous/Self-driving cars” have been the talk of the world off-late and this has been possible mainly because of ECUs and sensors. There are many mind blowing features added to the automobiles in the recent times and there will be many more to come the recent future. All this has been possible due to advancement in Electro-Mechatronic technology.