Understanding Vehicle Computer System: Key Components and How It Works


Understading Vehicle Computer System

Modern vehicles are intricate machines that can be compared to mobile computers. The majority of modern vehicles possess at least one computer system, with many possessing several. In the past, individuals with inquisitive minds, ample time, and comprehensive manuals could learn about vehicles by tinkering with them. However, presently, a certain degree of computer expertise is mandatory for those wishing to work on vehicles.

For modern vehicle technicians and mechanics, a fundamental understanding of computers is essential, as they are critical to the operation of modern vehicles. These systems provide the intelligence and processing power required to manage a wide range of functions, from engine control to safety systems to entertainment and navigation.

In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of the vehicle computer system and discuss its significance in the engine’s performance and drivability systems of a vehicle.

Computers are essential to the operation of modern vehicles, providing the intelligence and processing power needed to manage a wide range of functions, from engine control to safety systems to entertainment and navigation. Computers are used extensively in modern vehicles for a wide range of applications, including:

  • Engine Control: The engine control unit (ECU) is a computer that manages the fuel injection, ignition timing, and other functions of the engine. It monitors sensors such as the oxygen sensor, throttle position sensor, and coolant temperature sensor, and adjusts the engine performance accordingly.
  • Safety Systems: Modern vehicles are equipped with a range of safety systems that rely on computers, including anti-lock braking systems (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC), and airbag systems. These systems use sensors and algorithms to detect and respond to potential safety hazards, helping to prevent accidents and reduce injuries.
  • Infotainment: In-car entertainment systems have become increasingly sophisticated, with many vehicles now offering touchscreens, voice control, and wireless connectivity for smartphones and other devices. These systems typically use a computer to manage the user interface and to process audio and video signals.
  • Navigation: GPS navigation systems use computers to process location data and to provide real-time directions to the driver. Many modern vehicles now offer built-in navigation systems, which use a combination of GPS and map data to provide accurate and up-to-date navigation information.
  • Autonomous Driving: Autonomous vehicles rely heavily on computers to process data from a range of sensors, including cameras, lidar, and radar. These systems use algorithms and machine learning to interpret the sensor data and to make decisions about how to control the vehicle.

As vehicles have become increasingly complex, the need for advanced computer systems to manage their performance and operation has grown. These systems are critical to the safe and efficient operation of modern vehicles, providing the intelligence and processing power needed to manage a wide range of functions. Next, we will explore the intricacies of the vehicle’s computer system and discuss its importance in the engine’s performance and drivability systems of a vehicle.


What Is A Vehicle Computer System?

In modern vehicles, a vehicle computer system is connected to multiple Electronic Control Units (ECUs) that monitor and regulate specific components or subsystems. The ECUs receive data from sensors and control various functions through actuators. The main purpose of the car computer system is to oversee and optimize the vehicle’s performance and operation. The incorporation of advanced computer systems in cars has contributed to their improved efficiency, safety, and ease of use.

A significant number of computer systems exchange information gleaned through shared sensors. Multiplexing serves as the data connection that allows computers to communicate with one another. Several computers collaborate with one another in order to exert control over various components of the vehicle.

For instance, Automatic Traction Control is a component of Anti-lock Brake Systems. However, if the system detects a wheel spinning, it can interact with the engine computer to lower engine power. It is also capable of applying the brakes to the spinning wheel. Based on the system, it can process this operation anywhere from 5 to 100 times in a single second.


What Constitutes A Vehicle Computer System?

A vehicle computer system comprises many different components, each of which communicates with the PCM (Powertrain Control Module) to facilitate its smooth and effective operation. Memory, processors, analog-to-digital converters, voltage regulators, circuit boards, and transistors are some of the components that make up a vehicle computer system. Others include computing processors and object detection/analysis. Vehicle computers must withstand a wider range of temperatures, vibrations, environmental conditions, and other variables. 

Suppose any of these components stop working properly. In that situation, it’s possible that you won’t be able to move for a moment since they all play a significant part in the operation of the vehicle as a whole. Here we name a few essential components of a car computer system:

  • Computing Processors
  • Computer Memory 
  • Actuators
  • CAN Bus Modules
  • Signal Conditioners
  • Voltage Regulators
  • Analog to Digital Convertors 
  • Input/Output Devices

What Is a PCM on a Car? 

The Powertrain Control Module (PCM) is a term frequently used to refer to the vehicle’s computer system. Essentially, it serves as the “brain” of the vehicle, utilizing data collected from various sensors to make decisions regarding the operation of the engine, transmission, and other components. The PCM is just one of the numerous microprocessors found in contemporary automobiles, responsible for managing various systems such as automatic climate control and power windows. 

What is the Engine Control Module?

The term “ECM,” which stands for Engine Control Module, is sometimes used to refer to a vehicle computer system.  It is responsible for controlling the engine by collecting sensory data from various parts of the vehicle. The ECU gathers data from the cooling system, exhaust, intake, and other internal components, and then issues commands based on this information. The ECU controls various aspects such as ignition timing, throttle position, wastegate pressure, and fuel injection timing.


Types of Vehicle Sensors in Automotive Computers

Types of Vehicle Sensors

A computer system in a car is supported by a variety of sensors that create signals to communicate critical information to the processor. This allows the processor to make any required modifications to the functioning of the vehicle. The following are examples of commonly used types of automotive sensors found in a vehicle computer system:

  • Temperature Sensor: The resistance value shifts whenever there is a change in the temperature surrounding the resistor that is housed inside the temperature sensor. This change eventually contributes to the monitoring of the temperature of the engine.
  • Pressure Sensor: By detecting the pressure differential between the engine’s intake manifold and atmospheric pressure, a Manifold Absolute Pressure (MAP) sensor can keep tabs on how much load the engine is bearing.
  • Air-flow Sensor: An air-flow sensor is used to determine the volume and density of the air that is being introduced into the combustion chamber.
  • Parking Sensor: The parking sensor is able to identify any obstruction that may be in either the front or the back of the automobile.
  • Engine Speed Sensor: An engine speed sensor keeps track of both the speed at which the crankshaft is turning and its location.
  • Potentiometers (Position Sensor): The most often used potentiometer refers to the throttle position sensor on the accelerator pedal, monitoring the throttle valve location.
  • Driver Detector Sensor: The Driver Detector Sensor is used to detect the presence of a driver in the vehicle and activate or deactivate certain features accordingly, such as the seat belt warning system or the airbag system.


How Does A Vehicle Computer System Work?

A vehicle computer system controls the many operations that take place inside a vehicle and optimizes its performance under a variety of conditions, like changes in weather or even the habits of a particular driver. It uses a variety of input sensors and switches to collect data and information. Everything gets processed by the computer itself. On the other hand, the system controls outputs like injectors, fans, solenoids, and relays to operate the various components.

A voltage is required for the computer system to function. Most sensors work by altering a voltage signal. The computer converts the voltage to a temperature, pressure, or location. Some sensors transmit a DC digital signal to the computer, which is an on-off or high-low signal, while others transmit an Analog voltage, which may be either constant or variable.

Temperatures are shown in degree Celsius, pressures in pounds per square inch, and locations in percentages when a scan instrument or computer is connected to the system by a technician. The computer takes the information from the sensors and other sources and feeds it into an algorithm, which then outputs instructions for how to run the system.

Once the computer has made a judgment based on the data it has been provided, it will activate mechanisms like solenoids, switches, motors, and lights. The ground side of the circuit is where many of the output unit circuits are regulated. Due to the low amperage of most computer circuits, a relay may be used to regulate the current in a separate, higher-amperage circuit.


The Future of Vehicle Computer Systems and Applications

Computers are expected to play a major role in the future of transportation, with a range of new technologies and applications being developed that are expected to transform the way we travel. Here are some examples of how computers are expected to help transportation in the future:

  • Autonomous Driving: Computers are essential to the development of autonomous vehicles, which have the potential to revolutionize transportation by reducing accidents, traffic congestion, and pollution. Autonomous vehicles rely on sensors, algorithms, and machine learning to detect and respond to their environment, allowing them to navigate roads safely and efficiently without human intervention.
  • Traffic Management: Advanced traffic management systems are being developed that use computers to optimize traffic flow and reduce congestion. These systems use real-time data from sensors and cameras to monitor traffic conditions and to adjust traffic signals and road markings to minimize delays and improve safety.
  • Predictive Maintenance: Computers are being used to monitor the performance of transportation infrastructure, such as bridges, tunnels, and railways, to detect potential problems before they cause major disruptions. This helps to reduce downtime and maintenance costs and improves safety and reliability.
  • Mobility-as-a-Service: Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is a new concept that uses computers to provide integrated transportation services, such as ride-sharing, public transit, and bike-sharing, through a single platform. This allows travelers to plan and pay for their entire trip using a single app, reducing the need for car ownership and reducing traffic congestion.
  • Energy Efficiency: Computers are being used to optimize the energy efficiency of transportation systems, by reducing the amount of energy needed to move people and goods. This includes developing more efficient engines and powertrains, as well as using algorithms to optimize routes and reduce idling time.


Your Trusted Supplier of Vehicle Computer Systems

A Vehicle’s computer system has become an integral part of modern vehicles. The system oversees and optimizes the vehicle’s performance and operation, contributing to improved efficiency, safety, and ease of use. 

SINTRONES’ In-Vehicle Computing products are ruggedized embedded control units that can be applied in a variety of system and vehicle control applications. Contact us to learn more about our solution to vehicle computer systems.