back to article Look what's screeching into the Internet of Stuff: Self-driving cars

Semiconductor maker Freescale is a notable player in embedded processing for the automotive industry, among other things, so it was perhaps no great surprise to find various car components on its stand at the Future World Symposium this week in London. Freescale's hybrid game at play Freescale's hybrid game at play By …


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  1. Tom_


    "On the stand, Freecale apps manager Graham Troy suggested other implications for engine management where car owners could switch ECU (Engine Control Unit) profiles and pay a few quid extra for a download to have their sedentary saloon souped up to a sportster for the weekend."

    I'm not convinced that would be very popular with motorists, to be frank. Many might take the view that they already bought the car, so should be able to access it's capabilities at will and without further charge.

    1. Dr Insanity

      Re: Mental

      In part I can see your point and agree, but given that a premium sports saloon is generally the same engine as the standard model, albeit with a differently configured ECU, it could be argued that the buyer of the standard saloon bought the car and should benefit from the features of the more expensive sport model? I would see the idea of downloading the Sports profile for a weekend as a sort of PAYG GTI feature. Instead of spending the premium when purchasing the car as a lump sum, the buyer could instead just pay for it at a time when they'd actually use the additional performance, and spend a lot less.

      The ability to parentally control the power output, or set a car to the most economical profile on the fly would be very useful, however, and I don't think that buyers of the higher performance cars should be charged extra to "downgrade" to these ECU configurations.

      1. Toltec

        Re: Mental

        "I would see the idea of downloading the Sports profile for a weekend as a sort of PAYG GTI feature."

        Many cars have this feature already, it is called an accelerator pedal, pressing it more gives you more power and you pay for the extra fuel this uses.

        Apart from that, unless the software can reduce the mass of the car, remove the rear seats and roof, and improve the handling* no amount of extra power will turn a stodgy saloon into a fun weekend car.

        * Just making the suspension harder and increasing NVH does not count as better handling.

    2. Thomas Whipp

      Re: Mental

      In essence this capability already exists and is usually referred to a chipping which impacts both insurance cost, and probably invalidates any warranty. Not unreasonably a car manufacturer expects to design a car as an overall system - brakes, suspension, tyres, gearbox and engine - while they can supply variants they would still need to design within an envelope of performance.

      Also, my 1 year old (cheap) car already has an "Eco" button which enables a number of economy related settings (performance wise it mostly seems to reduce the available torque above 2500 rpm)

      So I'm not really sure I see this being anything very new commercially (with the possible exception that being able to lock a car to eco mode might be attractive to parents of new drivers for the first year) - although it might well do it better and cheaper from a manufacturer perspective.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mental

      This has been possible for years. Several major manufacturers sell high and low performance versions of the same car where the low performance engine is mechanically identical to the high performance version but crippled by arbitrary torque or throttle limits in the ECU firmware.

      There are plenty of backstreet "tuners" willing to reflash the ECU with the high-performance version for a few quid.

      Of course you still have the low-performance tyres, brakes and suspension. If you have to replace those too then you might as well have bought the high-performance version in the first place.

      1. GBE

        Re: Mental

        > There are plenty of backstreet "tuners" willing to reflash the ECU with the high-performance version for a few quid.

        Though most "tuners" seem to be happy with some shabby after-market stripes and an obnoxious exhaust pipe tip.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mental

      I'll just be waiting for the first reports of cars being hacked and used for assassinations. Probably should figure out how to set up a betting pool for this.

    5. Steven Raith

      Re: Mental

      This has indeed been possible for ages through ODBII, but it's costly (several hundred quid) - and while it works on a new car, once you start to get a bit older, and say, an exhaust has been replaced with a pattern part, or the air intake has been replaced with a Halfords paper part or some other modifications, then the more extreme maps (for economy and performance) may do more harm than good if they are based around OEM hardware.

      There's a good reason most cars are tuned to be on the 'generalised' scale of performance or economy.

      There's also the fact that if you really want decent performance out of the existing primary hardware (block, crank, cams, pistons) then you need to replace the intake and exhaust systems, and then map the engine live on a rolling road, or a test track, to ensure flatspots don't occur.

      Engine mapping isn't just dumping more fuel in; to get real gains without problems (anything from worse fuel economy to blown/burned pistons - see 'mapped' Impreza WRXs for details...) then the whole engine and fuel system has to be designed specifically around being either truly modular, or truly adaptable - and if you want real, noticeable gains, you need to either start swapping hardware, or mapping live, or ideally both.

      Same is true for economy - if you put less fuel into an engine - make it run lean - it will actually run hotter and damage the pistons, as the fuel, before it burns, actually cools the piston crowns.

      Interesting stuff though if it can be pulled off to a useful degree.

      Steven R

    6. noominy.noom

      Re: Mental

      Re: Mental

      Some buyers of computers think that also. But IBM has for a couple of decades sold the same system at different price points, and also the "weekend" upgrade as you refer to above. If you buy the lower performance model, you can "rent" the higher performance later for as many days as you want it. With autos of course it would depend on the rest of the car being able to handle the performance.

  2. theModge

    By my reading what's new is that chipping rather than being tricky and needing specialist hardware (even if that is pretty cheap these days) will be actually made easy for the user - a usb socket or what ever.

    It's not just boy racers at it either - a rich, older and sensible uncle of mine got a new ECU (before firmware uploads were possible) which gave him eco \ normal \ performance modes on a previously under used dial in

  3. Neil Woolford
    IT Angle

    Hotel decor.

    What scary, scary carpet!

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