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If there is anything that the rise of microprocessors has shown us, it is that very little separates the wildest idea from realization. Fifty years ago, the notion of a driverless car was sci-fi fare. Nowadays it is not a matter of if, but when.

Mind you, driver-assist systems in vehicles have been the norm for a long time. In the 1940s, the engineering breakthrough was the automatic transmission; 10 years later it was power steering and braking. Up until the debut of microelectronics in the 1980s, though, the push to make driving safer, easier, and more comfortable superseded automation efforts.

Everything changed with the advent of microelectronics. At first, the technological footprint was somewhat invisible to the driver with advances like fuel injection and emissions control, but now the impact is more obvious. Today’s advanced microprocessor technology is transforming automobiles from sophisticated mechanical devices to networks-on-wheels as shown by a recent Society of Automotive Engineers study noting that 90 percent of all vehicle innovations in the past three years have been electronic in nature. All car buyers can experience the benefit of a high-tech addition almost immediately, because technological enhancements appear in the economy vehicle class almost as soon as they do in the performance and luxury categories.

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