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Start your engines…

That well-known racing cliche may soon be replaced by the phrase “Power up your I/O and boot your processors.” Today's cars are loaded with sensors, I/O and microprocessors, as they sport power train control, internal checkpoints, airbags, entertainment, Internet access, GPS and much more.

Recent features and product coverage in Planet Analog has looked at electronics in autos, where the operating environment and operational priorities are very different from those in other applications. They are also compute-intensive: Some cars have a high-end, floating-point processor with sophisticated I/O, solely to oversee the transmission's operation.

Among the articles we have run is one on car batteries and one on designing a self-fault-sensing IC; we've had LED drivers and regulators for cars and even an under-the-hood teardown of a Sirius satellite car receiver (some tricky antenna and front-end problems there). And these are just a few of the auto-specific items we have run.

To really see how electronics have transformed the automobile, go to an antique auto show. Even in cars that are just 25 years old, the only electronic devices are likely to be the radio and tape deck; everything else is mechanical and electrical.

Certainly, compared with those older vehicles, today's cars are far more reliable, run better and have more creature comforts. But I do sometimes wonder: Will today's cars be maintainable or operating 25 years from now? Getting replacements for older electrical and mechanical parts is a challenge but achievable (you can even fabricate a replacement part of you are desperate); but getting a replacement processor for today's ABS system in 2031 may be impossible.

How will the electronics industry-now largely focused on fast-moving mass markets-deal with the long-term needs of the auto sector, keep cars running and perhaps even restored?

Stay tuned, and let's check back in 25 years!

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