mechanic checking car with diagnostic computer

Using a diagnostic computer, a mechanic can view a car's digitally stored information and determine exactly what the problem is.


Automobiles are the ultimate technology mashup, and they've made it easier for people to get from place to place for over a century. Cars are already a mashup of mechanical and electronic technologies, each of which is an impressive innovation by itself. Automobile manufacturers also incorporate digital hardware and software to improve your driving experience.

Computers monitor and control many of the car's moving parts. As described in our article How Car Computers Work, the vehicle is programmed to respond to the driver and to changing weather and road conditions. These systems can record what's wrong with the car and send you a warning through a sound or a light on the dashboard. Then, you'll know to take the car in for service before the problem leaves you stranded on the side of the road. Plus, service personnel can quickly identify the problem by plugging in a computerized diagnostic device, sparing you hours of waiting.

Digital electronics inside the car allow drivers to carry out certain tasks -- making phone calls, adjusting the radio, asking for directions -- without breaking their concentration on the road. If you need directions, for example, some cars have a built-in global positioning device (GPS). Services (like OnStar) and devices (like a navigation display) inside the car use that GPS to determine where you are and how to get where you want to go. Fully integrated software like Ford SYNC by Microsoft lets you control your car radio, mobile phone, navigation system and other features by voice commands [source: Ford].

We've looked at just five examples, but there are tons of time-saving tech mashups out there. For more information, head over to the next page.