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The Dozens of Computers That Make Modern Cars Go (and Stop)

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The electronics within today's cars are under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the recent problems reported with some Toyota vehicles.

Modern cars and trucks contain as many 100 million lines of computer code, more than in some jet fighters. "It would be easy to say the modern car is a computer on wheels, but it's more like 30 or more computers on wheels," says SAE International's Bruce Emaus. The on-board computers control several functions, including the brakes, cruise control, and entertainment systems.

Built-in electronics, as a percentage of total vehicle costs, rose to 15 percent in 2005 from five percent in the late 1970s, and likely is higher today, reports IEEE Spectrum. Throttle-by-wire technology has replaced cables or mechanical connections. These systems are designed to protect against the kind of false signals or electronic interference that could cause sudden acceleration.

Emaus says the software controlling a car's electronics is engineered with defensive programming to prevent problems, but he acknowledges it is nearly impossible to test for every eventuality.

From The New York Times
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