EcoBoost software: A dream realized
Virtually invisible to the untrained eye – what is it that allows the surprisingly alert explosive power that comes with un-intelligible fuel economy of any EcoBoost-powered Ford? Very few would notice the discretely placed little black box that holds the secret: millions of lines of code.
“Engines today are basically lumps of metal without the software,” said John Rollinger, Ford Motor Company’s technical leader for power train and gasoline engine control. “That little black box is actually the brain powering the entire vehicle. Without it, there would be no EcoBoost.”
Anyone who has been behind the wheel of an EcoBoost-powered vehicle would vouch that this technology gives a surprising amount of power to anyone who asks for it – whether it’s on the track or accelerating on the highway to avoid a dangerous situation – while allowing extreme fuel efficiency during day-to-day driving.
Beginnings of the EcoBoost
The 1970s sparked a shift for the development of smarter engine technology – born from the need or more fuel-efficient cars.
“The fuel crisis that hit in the mid ‘70s was a major turning point for Ford in terms of developing cleaner and more fuel-efficient engines,” said Rollinger. “People were beginning to demand engines that were fuel efficient but didn’t sacrifice performance, and we quickly realized that the best way forward was with the help of software solutions.”
So the brilliant minds at Ford began to tinker; three-way catalytic converters helped reduce pollutants, but lacked precise control. For this came the earliest form of the little black box now known as the engine control unit (ECU). Yes, Ford was first to incorporate an ECU (then called EEC) that provided basic control of more-than-quite crucial engine elements including electronic fuel injection, spark control and air fuel ratio.
This groundbreaking innovation by Ford paved the way for exponential engine technology development that gave rise to the use of high-level code; allowing engines to drive and work harder than ever before, on board diagnostic (OBD) systems consolidated vehicle vital statistics all on the now more-than-comprehensive dashboard instruments panel – basically, cars learned how to tell us when something was wrong.
By the mid 1990s, engines were completely controlled electronically. Computing software had also become more than just about engine control – advances in OBD, transmission and fuel management meant a smooth, more efficient driving experience.
But better is never enough! In 2003, Ford introduced drive-by-wire. This meant that specific accelerator inputs from the driver were fed through the ECU. The ECU then directly controls the engine. Thanks to this, engineers were able to fine-tune every system to make the driving experience as reliably powerful while being unbelievably economical as possible.
“Over the next few years, innovations in our software began to happen closer and closer together. By this time, Ford had made rapid advances in monitoring and we started to experiment more aggressively with fuel efficiency. This laid the groundwork for the development of EcoBoost,” Rollinger said.
EcoBoost software: A dream realized
Rollinger has a wealth of automotive software control experience, and has been front and center for some of Ford’s major computing and software milestones. But for him, nothing has been as impressive as the advent of the software for EcoBoost engines – From ultra-precise fuel injections to continuously fluctuating fuel injection pressure, variable valve timing and turbocharging not to mention minuscule changes that optimize fuel combustion, for cleaner, more efficient burn, the EcoBoost engine gives us all of this.
“To be able to extract maximum efficiency out the hardware, we had to piece together hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code and related parameters. In the end, we created one of the most sophisticated suites of software in the automotive industry at the time, and EcoBoost was born,” he said.
“Innovations at Ford are happening much closer together, and the next generation of engines will deliver even better fuel efficiency, without sacrificing the power that drivers love,” Rollinger added.
The motoring world, with Ford’s EcoBoost engine and undying passion for finding the penultimate harmony between power and fuel economy, indeed has a bright (and more fuel economic) future ahead.