When did cars first start using sensors?
The earliest types of sensors have been around since the 1950s. Low oil pressure warning lights and charging system warning lights on the instrument panel were relatively simple sensor circuits that would turn on a light to alert the driver to a problem. There was obviously no computer to monitor specific conditions in these early years. There were some early 1970’s examples of electronic fuel control using sensors developed by Bosch and used on brands like Mercedes Benz, VW, Porsche, and Datsun.
Electronically controlled systems using sensors began to be more widely installed on vehicles in the late 70’s and early 80’s in response to U.S. EPA emissions standards requiring the use of catalytic convertors. Catalytic convertors require the O2 sensors to be in order to operate most efficiently. The very basic computers were called electronic control modules (ECMs). Once a computer is installed in the system, then sensors can be used to input information to that computer. The list of sensors has grown from that point. This was also the beginning of a Check Engine Light being used to inform drivers that a fault was detected in the system.
Most of the first computer controlled automotive systems used sensors primarily to improve fuel control in order to reduce tailpipe emissions. Now sensors are used to monitor everything from raindrops on the windshield to reminding us when it’s time for an oil change. And at this point, there are no signs of the sensor trend ending anytime soon.
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