We all know cars have been getting steadily more complicated since their invention and proliferation in the late Victorian period. Show a turn of the century driver a Tesla electric car, and they would recognize the steering wheel, chassis, and pedals but not much else. Automobile design and development has, in recent years, embraced the computer.

In 1968, Volkswagen was the first company to use a computer chip to work a car. They introduced a fuel injection computer to their Type 3 automobiles. The chip was incredibly advanced for the time; it made on the spot calculations to determine the best amount of fuel to inject into the engine.

Computers Found Their Way into Cars

From that moment onwards, cars and computers were developed in tandem. Today, all new build cars have several complex computer systems controlling fuel injection, diagnostics, mapping, media, safety, and many other functions. Automobile design is aided by software, and aerodynamic modelling is done digitally before a car reaches the wind tunnel.

Car industry designers now come from less traditional educational backgrounds, reflecting the proliferation of digital technology in the automotive industry.

Automotive designers had had to retrain to incorporate computing into their skillset. Many retrain while on the job or take courses like online masters in computer science while keeping their contracts at design and automobile firms.

It is worth considering how many ways computers have found their way into our cars genuinely appreciate how much of a design shift has been caused by computer technology. Here are some of the unique niches computers have been employed to fill. That is by no power an exhaustive list. Cars are stuffed full of decision making computer technology.

1. Diagnostics

One of the most useful functions of onboard computer technology is telling what is wrong with your car when it malfunctions. On-Board Diagnostics (or OBD as these systems are regularly called) were first developed in the 1980s by General Motors but were relatively basic.

Modern OBD systems are required by law in many countries. Essentially, they are a diagnostic nerve centre. Sensors like thermostats, tire pressure readers, and voltmeters all send the information they collect to a diagnostic computer. In genuinely modern cars, the OBD system will give detailed reports to the driver regarding the source of any issues.

This is extremely useful. They find the source of the problem used to be one of the most time-consuming parts of any vehicle repair cycle. The proliferation of OBD systems has caused some upset despite this.

Old school petrol heads often contend that complex diagnostic systems make it hard to fix your vehicle – most amateur mechanics would be unable to program code or wrangle with a computer system when selecting their care.

Section of the pleasure of having a car, they say, was the satisfaction of working out what was wrong and fixing the problem yourself.

2. Fuel Economy

As discussed in this article’s introduction, Volkswagen was the first to insert a computer chip into a car’s design with its fuel injection computers in the 1960s.

Fuel injection computers revolutionized how companies developed efficient vehicles. By calculating the correct amount of fuel in any given situation, a car can ensure that it is not burning excess fuel and reducing efficiency.

When designing a non-computerized fuel injection system, a designer would have to decide to prioritize efficiency or available energy but could not keep both optimal. Computerized fuel injection means that cars can be designed with both economy and power in mind without compromise.

3. Safety

By 2022, computerized safety systems will be legally required in all new build cars in the United States. Computerized safety systems come in many forms. Sensors can warn drivers when they stray out of their lanes, automatic camera systems that monitor the rear of a vehicle, and collision detection computers can sense oncoming people or cars.

The latest computerized safety systems to be fitted to cars are automatic braking systems tied to collision sensors. In theory, these sensors predict a collision and stop the vehicle without driver input. This technology could save thousands of lives.

It could also help prevent cars’ use as weapons, which has become a worrying trend over the last few years. A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine detailed the anti-attack utility of computerized safety systems.

A car could theoretically stop automatically if it senses a collision with people is imminent. This would, in theory, prevent the use of the vehicle as a weapon.

4. Media

Computer systems play a crucial role in the media playback of modern cars. Bluetooth connectivity, smart equalizers, and voice activation modes are all relatively standard in recently designed vehicles. Departed do the times of searching through the glove compartment for cassette tapes.

No longer will drivers be forced to listen repeatedly to the same copy of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath as the magnetic tape slowly wears down and warps.

Voice activation technology – which was coincidentally developed for fighter jets – can help drivers control means externally taking their eyes off the road.

5. Mapping

Many of us would be lost (literally) without our vehicle’s onboard mapping functionality. An internal computer controls the GPS location of a car and the generation of optimal routes.

Incredibly, the first digital mapping computer debuted 14 years before the launch of GPS. The Honda Electro Gyrocator was released in 1981.

It used data from a car’s inertial positioning and mileage to calculate the location of the vehicle. A truly magnificent bit of 1980s computing, it is now considered a milestone device in engineering circles.

These days, mapping is achieved through GPS communication with satellites. As well as the car’s position, data is fed into the computer concerning traffic, speed limits, and accidents that help it produce optimal routes. It is a genuinely modern synthesis and visualization of data.