Thursday, March 08, 2007

Chip + Pimp my ride?

The Guardian in 'Pimp my ride - or just its chips' looks at how modern cars are controlled by computers, as was shown by the polluted petrol debacle of last week in the UK:

Last week's outbreak of fuel contamination showed how very dependent modern cars are on the computers hidden inside them. Because of a small quantity of silicone in a batch of petrol from an Essex refinery, hundreds of motorists found their cars would only run very slowly, if at all. This wasn't because the petrol had damaged the engines - older cars drove on perfectly well - but because a chip on board had decided that there was a danger and gone into nanny mode, shutting off most of the engine's power.

These electronics, and the chips that hold their programs, are everywhere in a modern car - the top-of-the-range Mercedes has 57 different sensor systems - but any car will have at the very least its engine, brakes and suspension controlled by embedded computers. At the moment, such chips seem to give drivers much greater control - and that is certainly how the advertisements sell them. But they are just computers. They belong to whoever can program them.

Makes you realise that so much more is going on under the bonnet/hood of the car - and the article goes on to suggest some of the 'not-so-free' implications of this.

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