When Allesandro Volta, an Italian physicist, invented the storage battery in 1796, he had no idea that he was inventing the modern automotive electrical system. Volta made his discovery 89 years before the first car was put on sale. It took another 25 years for automakers to even take notice. Most cars made between 1885 and 1910, and with gas engines, did not need storage batteries. They had no devices that required electricity! Ignition was left to the non-electrical hot tube. Magneto happened later and was a self-generating mechanism. Electric horns, known as Klaxons, made an appearance in 1908, and used expensive dry cells. The first electric lights on autos appeared in 1898. In 1912 appeared the voltage regulator. Developed by Delco, it solved the problem of battery overcharging. By then, the generator had been found. Delco was also instrumental in the development of electric starter. First seen on Cadillac cars in 1912, the electric starter then, was a combination of a starter motor and generator with an overrunning clutch and reduction gear. Gear teeth engaged the flywheel to provide a reduction of about 25 to 1 between the starting motor and crankshaft, allowing sufficient torque to crank the engine successfully. Signalling the way ahead, the starter in those times was very unlike today's systems where a starter-alternator combination can work as a start-stop mechanism! Interestingly, the generator or dynamo, mentioned above, was also the starting point of hybrid cars. In 1899, Dr Ferdinand Porsche, a young engineer at Jacob Lohner & Co, built the first hybrid vehicle. The car used a petrol engine rotating at a constant speed to drive a dynamo, which charged a bank of accumulators. These, in turn, fed current to electric motors contained within the hubs of the front wheels. Therefore there was no need of drive shafts, transmission, gears, straps, chains or clutch. Due to its extreme simplicity, the transmission operated, without losses produced by mechanical friction with an incredible yield of 83%.New developments in electronics led to the alternator replacing the dynamo. The alternator would help generate more current. This would also make way for the development of better lamps and other electrical systems. While the sealed beam head lamps appeared in 1939, the alternator employed rectifiers and an in-built voltage regulator. Rising popularity of electronics drove researchers. One big outcome was the invention of Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) system. A system that has been fine tuned to power the current automobile, and the result of which is power, efficiency, refinement and less emissions. The arrival of digital microprocessor increased the viability of EFI many folds. Such was the effect that electronics was extensively tried out in other areas. Today's automobile makes it hard to distinguish therefore, what is electrical or electronic. So, if a spark plug can be defined as part of electrical technology, the injector and various sensors are clearly electronic in nature. The combination of electrical and electronic technology is inseparable and finds use in instrumentation, HVAC, wash/wipe and more. A good example of the coming together of the two technologies is the electric power steering. Found on cars like the Maruti Alto, this technology involves an electric motor fitted on the steering rack. A torque sensor is located on the input shaft and converts the steering torque input and its direction into voltage signals. There's also the rotation sensor, which converts the rotation speed and direction into voltage signals. An "interface" circuit, in turn, converts the signals from the torque sensor and rotation sensor into signals the electronic control unit (ECU) can process. Inputs from the steering sensor are digested by a microprocessor control unit (ECU in other words) that also monitors input from the vehicle's speed sensor. The sensor inputs are then compared to determine how much power assist is required according to a pre-programmed "force map" in the control unit's memory. The control unit then sends out the appropriate command to the "power unit", which then supplies the electric motor with current. The motor pushes the rack to the right or left depending on which way the voltage flows (reversing the current reverses the direction the motor spins). Increasing the current to the motor increases the amount of power assist.Applications like the electric power steering are common place in modern automobiles. Servo motors like the one used in an elecric power steering can perform tasks as mundane as operating the windows or the central locking mechanism. They also perform more interesting tasks like selective application of individual wheel brakes to retain control on a slippery road surface or inject highly precise amount of fuel in the chamber! Electrical and electronics work the suspension of modern autos too. US-based Bose Corporation, known for producing high-end audio systems, has developed a unique electromagnetic suspension system for automobiles. Replacing traditional shock absorbers and springs with electronic actuators, at the core is a linear electromagnetic motor, which is installed at each wheel. Inside the linear electromagnetic motor are magnets and coils of wire. When electrical power is applied to the coils, the motor retracts and extends, creating motion between the wheel and car body. With speed as the key advantage, the linear electromagnetic motor responds swiftly to counter the effects of bumps and potholes, maintaining a comfortable ride. Additionally, the motor has been designed for maximum strength in a small package, allowing it to put out enough force to prevent the car from rolling and pitching during aggressive driving manoeuvres.A power amplifier delivers electrical power to the motor in response to signals from the control algorithms. The amplifiers are based on switching amplification technologies pioneered by founder, Dr Bose at MIT in the early 1960s - technologies that led to the founding of Bose Corporation in 1964. The regenerative power amplifiers allow power to flow into the linear electromagnetic motor and also allow power to be returned from the motor. For example, when the Bose suspension encounters a pothole, power is used to extend the motor and isolate the vehicle's occupants from the disturbance. On the far side of the pothole, the motor operates as a generator and returns power back through the amplifier. In so doing, the Bose suspension requires less than a third of the power of a typical vehicle's air conditioning system.The most visible application where electrical, electronic and lighting technologies unite are the modern-day lighting systems. Illuminating not just the road ahead, lamps in an automobile play various functions, that of the tail light; brake light, turning signal and more. The reliability of LED technology has seen its use go up in centrally mounted brake light. LED technology is also finding its way into head lamps and tail lamps. Offering very long life and an uncanny resistance to vibration, LEDs have found a place in lighting systems as daytime running lights and various signal and marker lights. The commercial vehicle industry has rapidly adopted LEDs for virtually all signalling and marking functions on trucks and buses, because in addition to the fast rise time and concomitant safety benefit, the extremely long service life of the LEDs reduces vehicle downtime. Almost all commercial vehicles use exterior lighting devices of standardised format and fitment, which has cost-reduced and sped the changeover. LED lamps have also proved to be a feasible alternative to traditional light sources for flashing beacon lights on vehicles such as maintenance trucks. Automakers like Mercedes Benz have engineered flashing LED brake lamps. Dubbed Adaptive Brake Lights, these brakes lights are only activated when the brake pedal is pushed heavily for a hard stop. Use of LED clusters as lamp modules, courtesy the LED' ability to lit up instantaneously, has led automakers to experiment with such safety enhancing features. Dictated by regulations that call for smaller carbon footprint and less emissions, most automakers are striving to develop new technologies that are lighter and reliable. Electrical, electronic and lighting technologies are not out of the purview. Wires have long given way to CAN-Bus systems in autos. Newer technologies like LEDs and electronically adjustable ride height, ABS, ESP, etc., are turning autos more efficient. However, hybrid and electric cars are calling for the next best. This has led manufacturers and suppliers to hunt for newer technologies like Li-ion battery technology, LED lighting technology, regenerative braking technology and more.The automobile of tomorrow is certain to be far removed from the one today. It may have completely given up on fossil fuels. This would propel the importance of electrical, electronic and lighting technology to a new high. The result would most probably be a vehicle that is zero emission compliant and self driving. All it would require is a login, password and a command! A development that Allesandro Volta would have watched with great interest.