Cars have gone past post-modernism and are cruising ahead. But the joy of providing latest technology to vehicles also leaves researchers in a tight spot - safety. Latest research is focusing on how to make a vehicle computer without any safety loopholes. Self-driving cars have long ago proved their ability. Get in and inform the car about the destination, it will take you there and park on its own. There is only one reason why such self-driving cars are yet to be launched commercially - safety. If the software crashes, what will happen to the car? If someone hacks the car, will the car that has to go to the owner's house reach the hacker's?
High-tech cars have to cross the hurdle of winning the confidence across the world. If cars shift to single ECU system and is controlled by one centre, what happens if the system hangs or crashes? One failure and it will be difficult to get back into the minds of people. It is because of this scare that after clearing all tests, thousands of cars are still under trial across the world. Though we have succeeded in making cars that can be controlled from a screen like a game, it is yet to reach the stage where it can be handed over to us.
The challenge called real-time
The emergency components in the vehicle should operate using real time operating system (RTOS) only. Brake, steering wheel, ABS and cruise control etc do not get a second chance. RTOS is different from other operating systems. Whatever the input, in case of RTOS the output will be predictive. It will be precisely programmed how much the tyres will turn if you turn the steering left or right. If this changes even a bit, it will be termed as a system failure.
One thing at a time
Processors can only do one thing at a time. Hence, when you brake while music is playing, or GPS is working, the processor won't be do it properly. This is accurately managed by a ‘scheduler’. This delay won't be known to the driver or even the vehicle itself.
Continuous data sharing
A big network is working inside the car without we knowing about it. If you press the clutch with the left leg, the brake pedal below the right legs knows about it. This is made possible through controller area network (CAN). Each sensor communicates and share data continuously.
How do we benefit
Ever wondered why so much technology is packed inside a car? There is a reason. Remember old radios? Leave them idle for some time and their capacitors break and leak? Today, even an old mobile phone doesn't have such problems. Even after 50-60 years the electronic system will help the equipment to operate. Precision is that important in a vehicle. Costly technology is being incorporated to improve precision.
Is it looting?
Are these measures aimed at fleecing customers? No, not at all. If a car's ECU fails, one may have to spend Rs 30,000 or more. But if you count the benefits of an ECU, then this is not a big amount. For example, the warning lights that come up when a vehicle overheats is as costly as your life. From the times when we got to know problems only from fumes, the electronic system is your guide to easy motoring.
“Each line of programming goes through thousands of tests. New technology like the single ECU will be released with zero errors. We are aware about the big failures a small mistake can cost. All changes are being incorporated considering the driver and passengers. In 10 years, the technology is expected to become cheaper. Today, technology comes at a premium. This naturally will come down,” said P J Athul, a Keralite working in vehicle infotainment field in Germany.
If the vehicle is over 20 kmph, the seat alarm goes off. Next, the door ajar warning comes up. The vehicle is not moving as per our inputs, but it is carrying us safely to our destination. If you are in a hurry to reach the railway station at 9 am, whatever your input, the new age vehicle tries to take you there safely, like an apprentice.