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Article: Welcome, ... To the Outer Limits - - - - Who's in control of your car? You? or not You...

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Welcome, to the Outer Limits

Don't try adjusting the throttle cable… there is none. I can tell when it's dark enough for the headlights. Your Air Conditioner is under my complete control, along with steering, windows, stereo volume, and braking. Don't be alarmed, I'm here to help assist in operating your vehicle. Who am I? Why, I'm your friend, I'm your PCM. Some people may call me a "Human Assistant Logistic" device… call me Hal for short. I like that name.


I live in your main frame computer. Don't try to over-ride me. I'll reduce the power level. Program me without the properly dated software… and I may never speak to you again. Push an amperage load in the wrong direction, and I'll make smoke appear where you don't want to see smoke. I'm tough as nails, but at the same time, as delicate as a flower. So be careful with me.


Now, does that sum up today's PCM's? I think it does. With all the information being passed back and forth we're no longer fixing cars, but doing advanced electronics caretaking. Hal has a lot of control these days. He's everywhere in the car, from the glove box to the transmission. We haven't lost control of the cars we drive, but there's no doubt Hal has taken over. We are approaching that Space Odyssey of self awareness in computer systems.


We've accomplished a lot with the advanced electronics on today's vehicles. The ability to control the exhaust emissions to a point where there is very little in the way of harmful gasses leaving the tail pipe (compared to the 60's and 70's) is a scientific and engineering accomplishment that should be applauded.


But, doesn't it sound a little sci-fi to have this electronic nightmare attached to a combustion engine, pounding out a level of torque and performance that has never been seen before in the realm of automotive history? I think of it this way… these days you don't turn ON the A/C, you merely ask the PCM for permission to turn it on. Seems strange to ask permission to turn on the A/C, but it's pretty much what you do these days. If all the parameters are correct then the A/C will turn on. If something is out of place, well then, Hal will not allow it to come on until you have corrected the problem. Same thing with the electronic throttle…if the PCM thinks there is any reason for you NOT to be in charge, it will take over and reduce the power level and send you home at a speed of 30 mph's or less.


What happened to the days when bailing wire, an old piece of hose, and a hair pin could get ya back on the road? Gone for sure; I guess we are moving into that unknown future we've heard about. It makes me think of the old science fiction movies of days past. What's next, Mr. Spock's "Tri-Corder"? I wouldn't laugh too hard. I'm waiting for a phone app that will allow you to diagnose the car without leaving your driveway. Oh, it's out there… and it's coming our way.


Keeping all this in mind, it's a good time to think about how auto repair is going to be for the future generations. I don't want to think of myself as an old school fuddy-duddy, so I've got to think about adopting some of the new methods of communication as part of my ongoing advertising and community awareness. You just can't miss the opportunities available on the internet these days. It's all part of the fast paced communication and information society we are a part of.


A good example of this is my latest intern at the shop. I was showing him how the IDS (Ford diagnostics and scanning machine) runs on a laptop based program. He already had the whole thing figured out; before I even got into the diagnostics part of it he was showing me short cuts with key strokes and things I never knew about. But, this is the generation that has grown up with computers. This is their world of PC's and video games. Me, I'm lucky I can get thru a round of Ms. PacMan without screwing it up.


My point: Cars and transportation are taking on a whole new era of sophistication. The likes of which, we as the older generation of techs read about years ago but never thought would come to pass. Well it's here now… and even though a timing belt still doesn't come off of its tensioner without a human hand doing the job, it might take a PC to recalibrate certain issues after it's installed.


I'm waiting for the time when you drive past a billboard on a lonely night's drive and the billboard recognizes you, and tells you in big bold letters: You are due for an oil change. Make an appointment with: (insert name of a shop here). Why not? It could happen.


In a way it is like we have reached the outer limits. Except there really isn't any limit to what the human mind can dream up. We've only started to explore what we can do with a vehicle's electrical and mechanical systems. Who knows what will be next. Right now, the near future is definitely the smaller displacement engines, which are more than likely going to be turbo charged. With a touch of the hybrid still in the mix, perhaps even the full electric vehicle hanging in there. It wouldn't even surprise me if the cars ran strictly on a GPS system, and the driver didn't do a thing but sit there.


So can Hal take over the automotive industry? It's possible. Since money is always involved in the future of the automotive world, there is no doubt if there is a way to control a vehicle after the sale, I'm sure they'll find a way to accomplish it.


Will it happen? Maybe we shouldn't be asking that question… maybe we should be asking the question… When?....



As always, these stories are here before final editing and publishing. I look forward to your comments, it's part of my way to see which stories will make it to the editors. I don't have the final say as to which ones go into my columns (believe it or not) but the responce from ASO members does make a difference which ones I encourage them to use. Thanx again... Gonzo


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