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5 trends in automotive electronics

March 2, 2012
Cars today essentially are rolling computers, as automakers strive to keep abreast of the latest in the digital world; they know drivers will want to see it replicated behind the wheel. So what’s next?
John Kispert is chief executive of Spansion, a Silicon Valley company that specializes in bringing memory to computer systems, especially those inside cars. Kispert offers five big predictions about how the next few years will bring more changes in the electronics of cars.
1. The glass cockpit Faux instrument panels are becoming common enough that they are reaching down into cars like the $15,995 Dodge Dart, coming to showrooms this spring. But Kispert thinks the phenomenon is going to go a lot further. He thinks automakers will be inclined to go digital with all the major instruments in cars. In essence, they would create a “glass cockpit” like the ones found in the latest commercial aircraft.
2. Driver Assistance The car will be smarter than the driver. Radar and other sensors will warn about unseen hazards and stomp on the brakes if the driver won’t. 

3. Gesture and voice recognition Cadillac is bringing gesture recognition to cars with its CUE system in the new XTS and ATS. As the driver’s hand approaches the navigation screen, the screen lights up. And waving a hand will allow the driver to control what information is visible or not. And voice recognition can only get better.
4. Better engine control Cars already are controlled by computers. But engine management systems will get more sophisticated. Ford recently showed how a car’s computers can sense the drive and adjust the engine accordingly. If a daily commute takes the vehicle on crowded city streets, the car knows that, and it makes the engine use less gas, for instance.
5. Black boxes Toyota’s troubles a couple of years ago underscored the role that data recorders can play in trying to figure out if there is something wrong with the car, or the driver. In Toyota’s case, the car’s black boxes were being tapped to see if cars had an unwanted acceleration problem, or if drivers were at fault. Kispert thinks black boxes will play a bigger role in showing drivers how they can handle the car more efficiently, saving more gas.