Technology plays a large role in the lives of so many, and every day we prove that it has endless applications.

One application that has been booming lately is in the automotive industry. It is within most of our lifetimes that specialized computers were added to cars to manage air intake, the ratio of air and fuel or just to tell us what problems the car is  having.

Today, we are seeing cars that not only depend on electronics and modern technology for entertainment, but also to wirelessly update the car, much in the same way you would your iPhone (reminder: iOS 9 became available yesterday). So, during the week of the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show, we will be discussing the growing industry that is “car tech.”

My family owns a 1988 Honda Accord. When you open the hood of the base model, it has very little wiring. In fact, you have just enough to run the essentials to get the car going and to run information to the speedometer and the other gauges. It has a radio and cassette player, but no air conditioning, no automatic door locks and best of all, no power windows. That’s right, ladies and gents, these cars are the reason we say, “roll down the windows.”

In stark contrast, the newest Accord is one of the best in class in terms of standard technology for price. You have a bluetooth connection, USB connection, rearview camera, sideview camera, automatic braking and a ridiculous number of features that weren’t even options a few years ago.

If we discuss some higher-end cars, we see fully digital and customizable gauges, customizable driving modes and customizable ride heights, all controlled by various processors onboard. The new Audi A8 has so many little computers, it totals to a record -breaking teraflop of computing power. For those who aren’t into computers, that’s a lot for a car.

Where is it all being used? The A8 will have two touchscreens, a virtual gauge cluster and a 3-D camera system that controls a dynamic cruise control, (it changes speed with traffic) as well as being able to recognize road signs along your drive. The head of Audi’s electronics department reported that their budget has quadrupled since 2009, and it will continue growing as demand for features and connectedness does.

So what are some fun things we’re seeing unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show? Well, a lot of it is still the push for more standard features in cars. This gives users more audio options and more things to play with on the dashboard.

In terms of how engines work, we’re seeing a shift from the typical formula. For years now, car makers have been pushing for bigger and badder engines. The thought was that if you want more power, you need to go with a bigger engine. For years, it was unheard of for four-cylinder engines to produce over 180 horsepower. Now there are small cars pumping out well beyond 200 mph. With the international push for efficiency and a cleaner planet, automakers have made some magnificent strides in turbocharging technology.

Turbocharging an engine uses the engine’s exhaust fumes to spin a turbine that sucks and compresses air, pushing that additional air into the engine to pump more power out of less fuel.

Volkswagen has been producing some of the best turbocharged vehicles for consumers for years. Want a comparison? The current generation Honda Civic uses a 2.4 liter engine that produces nearly 205 horsepower. Not bad, but it is beat by the competing Volkswagen. The VW GTI uses a smaller 2.0 liter engine with a turbocharger that produces a minimum of 210 horsepower. Not only does the car have more amenities, but it also has more power. Arguments can be made for reliability, but that’s a completely different story. That same engine can be given a slightly different programming and tuning to produce a 280 horsepower engine, one used in the VW Golf R. Yay technology!

The mashup we have between the car and tech industries is incredibly interchanging. There are a record number of unveilings this year that have to do with hybrid and electric vehicles. These are not simple systems. At this point, almost every common auto producer has an at least partially electrically powered variant.

We still have a long way to go until we move away from gasoline power completely, but this is a wonderful start. Personally, I quite like the roar of a well-engineered gas engine, but cars powered by clean energy is the one direction where we should be heading.

Lotfi is a member of the class of 2016.



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