Cars: bring costs & complexity down, features up.

So far, people have been putting computers into entertainment systems on automobiles, and into the engine control systems. Today, they are black boxes, which require specialized licensing and software to be able to perform diagnostics. Cars can be cheaper and better.

Today, when you go to a dealer or mechanic with a car with an electrical problem, you are essentially rolling the dice. Electrical systems today are exceedingly complex, and the number of places poor contacts can make things intermittent inside a car is astronomical. The nest of wires everywhere in modern cars, with every single automobile differently wired, has long been, and will forever be, a prime source of non-fatal, but annoying problems with cars. Cars are a mess of wiring.

Instead of an electrical system, there should be a network of computers with a standard communications and power bus. One computer in the interior or human-car-interaction (HCI) system, one in the engine compartment, one in the rear of the vehicle. They should be the same standard hardware, and they should be interconnected with a ruggedized connector that combines ethernet with a 48V DC power for motors & lights. So from the interior to the front of the vehicle, there will be one connector. Even better if it uses a network switch topology instead of joining the two computers back to back. Much more flexible to use a switch. That connector should be triply redundant, having three ethernets (maybe fiber is a good idea for this) and three sets of power. From the interior to the back of the automobile, will be a single connector of exactly the same type. There will be a substantial reduction in the amount of wiring in cars from this division of labour, and use of digital

So now we have three computers. They can talk to eachother over a standard ethernet network, and they can diagnose vote to ensure that at least one link is good at all times. The computer in the interior deals with all the controls that the occupants manipulate, and provide appropriate feedback based on communications with the other two computers. The other two do everything else. They each have a web of sensors... suspension travel, radar, video, tire pressure, temperature in many different places (perhaps via infrared camera.) control the brakes (for advanced features such as anti-lock brakes, stability control, traction control, emergency brake boosting, collision avoidance) all that feeds into the computers at each end of the vehicle and they feed, say, suspension road feel back to the interior computer which will instuct the servos which provide feedback to the driver at the steering wheel.

Why do this? The computers are standard, all cars should use inter-operable ones, and will differ mostly in software. If that happens, then the cost of these computers will be 10$ or less. They all have standard connectors for hooking up peripherals: lights, sensors, etc... Most sensors will be deployed in triplicate or better and the sensors will be the main expense in the system. With sufficient sensors, computers will be able to do a far better job of diagnosing problems, and make accurate, well thought out recommendations about what to do. Any decision tree that can be documented for a mechanic can be programmed into a computer with a sufficient amount of sensors. The car should tell us what is wrong.

Since the computers, sensors, and communications protocols will be standardized, open source versions of the software should show up. So the interior computer issues an standardized request to start signalling right, and the front and back computers begin flashing the right hand side turn signal. They are also monitoring the current draw from the lights, and detect that the left rear signal light is not consuming any current. This is reported to the driver, and the driver can choose to ignore it, store it for later use, or troubleshoot it. The car will then walk the user through a decision tree... is the light shining? Yes? (bad sensor), No? (bulb or wiring) replace bulb... No, it is the wiring, which can be easily replaced because it only goes a few feet to the nearby computer. Assembly of the automobile is probably cheaper because wire installation costs are reduced.

The design is trivially easy to re-wire. There is no complex wiring to worry about because everything is directly connected to a computer peripheral bus (probably USB based, again with ruggedized connectors.) In more expensive cars, they will probably have computers at all four corners for enhanced processing speed for the RADAR or other sensor systems. regardless of the details, the outboard computers will monitor real-time data, and just send abstracts to the network. The font and back computers could communicate directly for things such as varying ABS braking forces, and comparing wheel rotation speeds.

The 'Engine Check' light should be replaced by built-in diagnostics which indicate perform a detailed analysis, rather than an overly simplified if-then, which assumes all the wiring is good. Of course there will be a normal screen, and a way to hook in normal peripherals such as a mouse & keyboard to at least the interior computer, such that it can be interacted with (for servicing) like a laptop/desktop system.

So I want computers in cars in a far more thorough, integrated, holistic way, that makes cars:

  • cheaper to assemble
  • easier to diagnose (more sensors, redundant sensors, intelligence in onboard devices to interpret a consonance of data.)
  • easier to repair (shorter wire runs, it tells you precisely which component to replace (perhaps illustrated on the screen.)
  • scalable to support more features. (dual/quad zone heating adjustment, infinite variety of entertainment systems.)
  • more reliable: Use of fewer, more standard components. Those hardware components will be more thoroughly tested, and in more expensive makes subject to higher quality standards.
  • a good platform for automating the whole task (ie.


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