Absolute Power


REALLY Mobile Electronics

This blog originally posted on the Low Power Engineering Community 5/13/10. 

We all think of mobile electronics today as smart phones, laptops, cameras, video equipment, gaming machines, and a whole host of devices designed to untether us from the dreaded power cord. Yet we don’t usually associate our most mobile and, recently, most electronic device in the same category. Let’s take a look…

Back in the year 2000, when I was working on processor design at Sun Microsystems, Scott McNealy was fond of pointing out that the value of the electronics in the cars back then had caught up with and overtaken the value of the steel in those same cars. “You’re driving a computer to work, not a car,” he quipped. While today’s cars don’t look any more like computers than their brethren of 2000 on the outside, we’ve added GPS navigation, satellite radio, integrated MP3 storage, voice recognition, Internet connectivity, WiFi, Bluetooth, heads-up display technology, automatic lane tracking, automatic parallel parking, solar charging, and a host of other features in addition to the electronics actually used to build the car.

And there’s more to come. There’s no doubt in my mind that a “few” years from now, “mass transit” will mean electronic highways that can accommodate a much higher density of cars with many fewer traffic accidents and injuries. Put those same cars in manual control mode, and you’ll be able to zip along a country road with the wind in your hair, adjusting the exhaust noise to your pleasure, from “hot rod” to “silent” (they’ll just be recordings). The only downside is that you’ll also very likely be getting an automated speeding ticket in your e-mail.

We’re not there yet, but at some point in the future the power usage of electronics built into cars might even exceed the power needed to drive the wheels. Wouldn’t it be funny to ask the car salesman of the future, “I like the super-deluxe 3D heads-up display with sense-around technology, but how will it affect my mileage?”

Things are definitely getting interesting.

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