The Evolution of Automotive Technology

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A lot of automotive technology seems pretty basic to us now, but it all started with the first car. Here are just a few examples:

This article explores The Evolution of Automotive Technology, with advances grouped into three time periods-before World War II, after World War II until 1989 and since 1990.

On-Board Diagnostics

You’ve probably heard of the check engine light, but did you know that it is part of a more complex system? These systems collect information from sensors to regulate vehicle functions and alert drivers of technical problems.

This data is then analyzed by the ECU, which can send specific error codes to the diagnostic scan tool for repair. OBD has been around since the 1980s, and has had a long history of evolution.


A subsidiary of General Motors, OnStar was the precursor to today’s navigation, infotainment, hands-free calling, and app integration systems. It also offers roadside assistance, anti-theft, and emergency response services.

OnStar was first introduced in 1996 and is available on a wide range of GM vehicles. Currently, GM is making a three-year OnStar subscription standard in new Buick and Cadillac models. This move is a clear example of how connectivity is becoming more and more important.

Smart Key

Unlike traditional key fobs, smart keys send a signal that is recognized by your vehicle. This allows you to unlock or lock the car and start the engine.

Additionally, smart keys are designed with special cases in mind. For example, if you leave your smart key inside the trunk, it will still operate. Some systems even warn you well in advance if the key’s battery is low.


Every time you grab your earphones from your bag, or transfer photos from your phone to your laptop, you’re using Bluetooth. This wireless technology connects devices without wires, making it convenient and safe.

Bluetooth signals move between 79 frequency channels, and use an encryption protocol to secure data. The network is named after the 10th Century Viking King Harald Blatand, and a runestone that bears his initials.


We’ve come a long way since Oldsmobile put the first GPS navigation system in a car, which was a $1,995 option in a 1995 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight.

Now, GPS is a worldwide standard for navigation and timing, thanks to the network of 24 satellites that’s owned by the government and accessible 24/7. It helps fleet managers optimize routes, increase cargo security and improve efficiency.

Electric Motor

Electric motors convert electrical power to mechanical energy to drive the wheels of a car. They are also found in vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, computer printers, video cassette recorders, air compressors, subway systems, and many other applications.

The rotor consists of wire windings around a laminated, soft iron ferromagnetic core. Electric current passing through the windings creates magnetic poles that spin the rotor.


Despite its current limitations, autopilot technology is becoming increasingly common. Its roots go back to Leonardo da Vinci’s self-propelled cart centuries before the automobile.

CR tested the latest version of Tesla’s FSD feature and found it to be slow to respond and often misread the road. Drivers must remain vigilant and ready to take control when using the feature.

Self-Driving Cars

A number of car manufacturers are preparing to introduce fully autonomous cars. Currently, most vehicles have SAE Level 4 self-driving capabilities that allow for brief hands-free driving.

However, these systems only work at low speeds. Truckers, bus drivers and taxis may find themselves out of work as automated vehicles enter the market. The technology also faces issues related to safety. One concern is hacking, which could result in cars taking unintentional actions.

Heads Up Display

Heads-up display is a technology that projects information on the windshield, eliminating the need to look down at your dashboard. It’s similar to what military pilots use.

It’s a feature found in high-end cars and some mainstream models. It’s important to have your car HUD properly calibrated to ensure it works perfectly. A professional ADAS calibration service can do that. It’s also essential for driver safety.

Fingerprint Recognition

Biometric technology can improve a driver’s experience by making it easier to access the vehicle. It also protects the car from theft.

Iris scanning, fingerprint reading and facial recognition have benefited from decades of development and reached a high level of maturity, the Tier 1 supplier notes.

To ensure the safety of biometric systems, automotive designers need to choose fingerprint sensors that support anti-spoofing software updates. They should also look for sensors with a proven track record of long-term MCU compatibility.

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