Electronics is becoming all pervasive – the way we communicate, what we work on, how we watch entertainment, and also in the way we drive vehicles. There has been a significant growth in electronics content in automobiles, especially in passenger four-wheelers. Electronics content in some products, in fact, account for about 1/3rd of the vehicle’s value. The higher rate of embracing electronics across segments can be attributed to features such as stringent emission norms, higher fuel economy demands, more connected features and increased safety. The upside to this increasing level of electronics adoption is that such systems are gaining entry into mass-segment models rather than premium segments that usually featured them.
NEED FOR SMART ELECTRONICS
Electronic systems play a major role in enabling features of safety, comfort & convenience, efficiency, electrification, autonomous driving, and shared mobility. The level of technological engagement and adoption is a standard across manufacturers in the automotive industry, be it OEMs or suppliers. However, it is the differentiating factors and user experience that place a brand above or below another.
Driver assistance systems can be passive or active, and the latter needs a high amount of electronic intervention to perform to its best ability. Similarly, infotainment systems and driver information systems are electronic components in essence, which need to learn the driver habits and occupants in order to offer a customised user experience that would be a degree higher than that of competition. Even mechanical systems like seat and steering adjustments as well as locking mechanisms are being made to read the occupant and make adjustments automatically.
All these electronic systems in the vehicle are required to become much smarter and learn about the driver and other occupants. This brings in the roles of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to the limelight, which are some of the technologies that can enable regular electronics to become ‘smart.’ These smart electronic technologies not only help in providing occupants with relevant comfort and amenities, but also give riders and drivers the confidence of a safe journey to their destination.
Even in the case of electric vehicles, electronics play a major role in regulating the power from the battery to the wheels as well as for safe and efficient charging of the battery itself. This brings out the dual role of enhancing the safety of the vehicle during charging cycles as well as providing maximum range by efficiently squeezing out the power required. Thermal efficiency is the most important factor to look into in the case of electric vehicles, and this can be effectively controlled through the use of relevant electronic devices that can continuously monitor and alter the battery performance.
LEGISLATIVE REGULATIONS & INCREASED ELECTRONICS
The tightening of regulations around the world has also led to higher levels of adoption of electronic systems in the automotive industry. Passenger vehicles have had a growing rate of built-in electronics so as to support the functioning of various aspects of safety and entertainment. However, two-wheelers are now being equipped with more electronic technologies, moving away from pure mechanical systems.
A classic example of this is with regards to the BS VI emission norms that come into effect in India from April next year. These new emission norms will call for two-wheelers to move to electronic fuel injection (EFI) systems from the more dominant carburettor fuel systems. These EFI systems will make the air-fuel mixture accurate, leading to higher efficiency of the powertrain, combined with low emission levels.
It is also being observed that a number of regulations are being applied to two-wheelers concerning safety. These include systems beyond just ABS, towards traction control and wheelie control, among others. The working of these safety systems depends heavily on sensors, which provide these systems with the data of the road and its surroundings. The information is subsequently transferred to a control unit, which processes the data and provides a suitable action to enhance safety and riding performance.
An electronic technology that has been gaining prominence in the automotive space is that of ride-by-wire or drive-by-wire, which completely negates the necessity for a cable. Ride/drive-by-wire technologies are being utilised to replace traditional cables in the case of accelerators, brake levers/ pedals, transmission and steering. While the adoption of this technology is still at a nascent stage in the automotive industry, it is gaining popularity for the advantages it brings. Ride/drive-by-wire makes use of sensors and actuators, making it more accurate to use and is easily customisable. Furthermore, safety can be improved in such systems due to the possibility of computer-controlled intervention of vehicle controls.
ROAD TO AUTONOMY
Autonomous Driving required vehicles to talk to everything (V2X), including other vehicles and infrastructure, and for this purpose a vehicle needs to be connected to all that it needs to communicate with. This requires cars to become moving assets that can receive and transmit signals of different types with one another. The only way to make this possible is to engage electronic systems that can cause these dialogues to take place. Such communication needs to be smarter in order to value the criticality of each and every piece of information and then transmit the same accordingly.
Once the connected vehicle can be achieved without any incident, it will then become easier to get all these vehicles to begin conversing and working together. The connected vehicle is the stepping stone as well as the barrier to autonomous driving, since the latter’s performance depends on the former’s seamless execution. A flaw in the connected vehicle environment could cause a high degree of damage to the autonomous driving environment, which includes human lives in the mix.
It should be noted that the extent to which electronic components will become part of the automotive industry is only going to increase further. It will be complemented by the megatrends of future mobility – connected, shared, autonomous and electrified transportation. All these future mobility technologies will need our vehicles to keep communicating regularly and that will be possible only through the many tools of electronics.
TEXT: Naveen Arul