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New Car Electronics

Old 12-07-2009, 08:23 PM
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This technology in cars is amazing on where we are going in the digital age. Remember Moore's law....twice the computational performance every 2 years. Here is an article in a technical journal.

Monday, December 7, 2009

New Car Electronics: This Is Ridiculous! (Or Not?)


At the two month anniversary of my High Sierra highway "adventure", I thought now might be a good time to fill you in on the set of wheels I chose to replace my beloved, departed Jeep Liberty. I ended up buying a 2008 Volvo XC70 Cross Country wagon with only a few hundred miles on it, which had sat at the dealer unsold for the past two years. Suffice it to say that I got a good deal on it! Here are a few snapshots courtesy of my iPhone 3G's built-in camera:

At the dealer (note the rental car in the background)


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Back home, after installation of Thule crossbars and bike racks, and

On the road
Since I didn't have the car custom-built by Volvo, I had to accept the options package it came with. Most of the vehicle's electronics apportionment was stuff that I likely would have ordered anyway, and the few options missing from this particular XC70 (such as a Sirius satellite radio) weren't a big deal to me, anyway (the standard sound system in this car still offers an AUX audio input in the form of a 3.5mm TSR jack, which I adore and which saves me from sub-par workarounds). But the remainder of the gear is the primary motivation for this post, which I craft with no shortage of chagrin given my year-and-a-half-plus back critique of the inherent health of the automotive electronics industry. For it's the gear that I initially thought was superfluous but which I have quickly grown quite fond of.
Take, for example, Park Assist. The front and back bumpers each embed four ultrasound sensors that operate in conjunction with the car's sound system (which alas does not have built-in Bluetooth audio connectivity) to alert the driver to close-proximity barriers such as other cars' bumpers in parallel-parking situations, which is where I find greatest value in the feature. The 'beep' tone differs for front- and back-sensor feedback, and the tone rate increases as you get closer to the sensed object. Granted, it isn't the more elaborate active park assist program that Ford (which bought Volvo a decade ago and is now in the process of selling it) is now implementing:

but it's still very helpful. A more elaborate form of the feature, called Collision Warning with Brake Support, employs a front-focused radar system and was not included in my car. Nor was the optional Blind Spot Information System, which leverages cameras built into both side-view mirrors.
My car's got a conventional cruise control system, albeit with a Hill Descent Control twist. As the owner's manual states:
Normally, when the accelerator pedal is released while driving down hills, the vehicle's speed slows as the engine runs at lower rpm (the normal engine braking effect). However, if the downhill gradient becomes steeper and if the vehicle is carrying a load, speed increases despite the engine braking effect. In this situation, the brakes must be applied to reduce the vehicle's speed. HDC is a type of automatic engine brake and makes it possible to increase or decrease the vehicle's speed on downhill gradients using only the accelerator pedal, without applying the brakes. The brake system functions automatically to maintain a low and steady speed. HDC is particularly useful when driving down steep hills with rough surfaces, and where the road may have slippery patches.
Again, my particular vehicle didn't come with the more elaborate Adaptive Cruise Control that maintains a set distance from cars ahead of it (using the same radar system employed by Collision Warning With Brake Support). But I do love how its conventional cruise control system still allows me to dial in an exact (MHP or KPH) target speed.
I confess that the keyless entry and drive system is taking some getting used to, after nearly 30 years worth of inserting and turning a real key to start the car. Instead, as long as the 'key' is in my possession, all I need to do is punch a button on the dashboard to fire up the engine. Next to the button is a dock which will power the 'key' if its internal battery fails, so I'm not stranded. One cool feature is that the XC70 will only auto-unlock the door closest to me as I'm standing next to the vehicle, as a security measure. Speaking of security, the XC70 has an integrated anti-theft system. And again speaking of security, I also confess I find the Personal Car Communicator feature of the 'key', specifically the heartbeat-inside-car angle, to be a little weird:


Dashboard readouts tell me the outside temperature, along with indications of instantaneous and average mileage and other interesting data. Tire pressure sensors alert me to mileage-sapping, alignment-altering and ultimately life-threatening deflation situations. This particular car came with the Climate Package (i.e. Cold Weather Package), which will likely be quite useful in my particular residence region. It includes:
  • Heated seats
  • Headlamp cleaning support
  • Heated windshield washer nozzles, and
  • Rain sensor-controlled automatic windshield wiper rate support
There's no built-in GPS, but there is a compass display built into the rear-view mirror. And the HomeLink feature enables me to control up to three garage door openers or other supported wireless communication systems. But when I consider these features, along with those on the list below:
  • Electronically controlled, two-user-programmable seats
  • Powered side-view mirrors, moon roof and windows
  • A powered tailgate, and
  • An electronic parking brake
...I've admittedly got mixed feelings. Their value is tangible but not notable. And if (or more accurately, when) they break, they'll be expensive to fix.

But especially given my recent-past accident experience, I've got no doubt as to the merit of the following features:
  • Anti-Lock Braking System and Electronic Brake Distribution
  • Electronic ignition and emissions
  • Dynamic Stability Traction System (note my particular car does not come with the optional Active Chassis System), and
  • Front and side airbags
As such, I'll close this post with a bit of déjà vu. Two months ago, I had my accident while on the way home from the San Jose Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. Last night, I was on the way home from running the California International Marathon and again encountered heavy snow in the Sierras. Fortunately Caltrans had the situation under control this time. Granted, it took me five hours to travel a distance that normally only takes an hour and a half. But my car got my dog and I home safely, which is all that really matters.
Speaking of which...if you'll excuse me, I now need to go shovel snow. My neighborhood got a foot of fresh stuff overnight!
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Old 12-12-2009, 11:46 AM
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Default New Car Electronics

You wouldnt really get doused, the problem might be open fumes, but not really that much of an issue I wouldnt have thought. Theres plenty of motors where it just comes into the car with a plastic pipe.
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Old 12-12-2009, 03:42 PM
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Nice vehicle, should fufill your needs quite nicely. That is a really nice auto and has the electro gismos to keep you on the cutting edge. Congrats on the new ride.
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