GM boss envisions the car of the future

Cars will become less mechanically complicated and more dependant on software and wireless, said Tony Scott, chief technology...

Cars will become less mechanically complicated and more dependant on software and wireless, said Tony Scott, chief technology officer at General Motors.

According to Scott, cars like GM's experimental Hy-Wire vehicle, which has its fuel-cell-powered drive system under the floorboards and all of its controls on the steering wheel, show what cars are going to look like soon. The Hy-Wire is completely controlled by software. 

"The auto industry is going to be fundamentally changed in five to 10 years," Scott said..

"We are going from gasoline to hybrid to fuel cells. The gasoline-based economy in the auto industry is doomed as far as we can tell. That also means the mechanical connections are changing from drive by wire to drive by wireless." 

Scott said that the gas pedal in the exisitng Corvettes, for instance, is not mechanically connected to the engine. Instead, it works more like the controls in a video game.

The evolution of technology in cars means greater challenges for the automotive industry.

As cars get more and more wireless, there will be a greater need for multiple antennas to carry necessary data. Many cars have 30 wireless sensors in them right now. Some will have at least 50 devices in them, which means cars will have multiple antennas or whip antennas, Scott said. GM is doing a lot of research into antennas to keep the cars attractive. 

GM is also looking into the growing use of software for major automobile functions. 

"We spend more per vehicle on software than we do on steel," Scott said.

Because cars typically last for 10 years or more, the onboard software has to last that long too - and be able to be upgraded over time. The change also means that car mechanics will need to become software experts, able to keep up with changes and updates. 

Scott said that software-heavy car does, however, present some challenges such as the software crashing.

"When you are driving the Hy-Wire vehicle, you don't want to get that blue screen of death and have the car just stop in the middle of the freeway," Scott said. 

With all the wireless devices in a car and all the possible devices an owner might have, carmakers must make sure everything is compatible.

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