While you may not truly appreciate the monumental impact of the microprocessor, you certainly understand the power of today’s modern technology.
At the heart of almost every electronic device is one, or a few, of these tiny data processing chips. Without them, computers and related devices just wouldn’t have the power necessary to complete even the most basic of tasks.
This article will explore the history of the microprocessor and the impact this technology has on today’s modern trucking industry. But, first, we need to get the basics out of the way.
What Is a Microprocessor?
Hidden deep inside today’s modern electronics are microprocessors. These tiny devices do quite a lot.
Consisting of a single integrated circuit that contains a central processing unit (CPU) and input/output (I/O) interfaces, microprocessors are often referred to as the “brain” of a digital system.
Other microprocessor components include:
- Arithmetic logic unit (ALU)
Not only are microprocessors programmable to meet exact specifications and demands, but they’re also multipurpose devices capable of handling a wide range of arithmetic and logic operations.
They are, in a way, the definitive computational technology of the digital age.
IoT devices, car computer systems, telematics hardware, GPS-tracking; virtually every modern computer-based system relies on the power of microprocessors.
How Does a Microprocessor Work?
Microprocessors play an essential role in fleet management. They help with everything from vehicle tracking to data collection and analysis.
While other components play a role in these types of processes, the general job of a microprocessor is the following:
- Fetching instructions from external memory sources
- Decoding and interpreting the instructions
- Executing the instructions and performing specific operations
- Writing back the results of the operation if necessary
- Repeating the fetch-decode-execute-write back cycle for the next instruction
All this happens in a fraction of a second.
The speed at which the microprocessor performs these operations is determined by its clock speed and the number of instructions it can execute per clock cycle.
To put this in context, let’s explore how microprocessors assist in fleet management with telematics:
- Collecting data—microprocessors collect data from various sources like sensors, GPS trackers, temperature sensors or engine sensors.
- Sending alerts—microprocessors help send alerts to fleet managers to highlight maintenance needs or route deviations.
- Data processing and analysis—microprocessors can analyze data to identify patterns and trends relative to vehicle usage and performance.
Evolution of Modern Microprocessor Technology
It all started in 1971 with the Intel 4004.
This first 4-bit microprocessor could run at a clock speed of 108 KHz and was useful for calculators and other simple electronic device applications.
Even with this breakthrough invention, microprocessor technology wouldn’t see true commercial adoption until the release of the Intel 8080 and Intel 8086. These would find a home in the first successful attempts at creating a personal computer, the Altair 8800 and the IBM PC, respectively.
To say microprocessor technology has progressed since then is a bit of an understatement.
Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, observed the number of transistors that can be packed into a given unit of space doubled about every two years. These transistors act as logic gates for the fundamental binary language that allows all our electronics to operate.
Put simply, the microprocessors take in binary data as input and then process it according to instructions stored in their memory.
As the transistors that manage this binary information get smaller and more efficient, computation power increases.
What about Gordon Moore’s prediction, also known as Moore’s Law?
Well, the Intel 4004 had 2,300 transistors. Today’s modern microprocessors pack in more than 100 billion transistors on a single silicon chip. These transistors measure around 7 nm. For reference, a human chromosome measures 2.5 nm.
Over the years, the world has witnessed many major jumps in microprocessor technology.
Whether it was the Introduction of 32-bit computing with the Intel 386 in 1985 or modern breakthroughs in chip technology with Apple M1 Ultra and 3 nm technology from TSMC, microprocessors are evolving faster than ever.
To fully grasp the modern transformation of the trucking industry as it relates to microprocessor technology, you must gain a firm understanding of how to evaluate processor performance.
Here is a quick overview of the key factors that influence the performance of a microprocessor:
- Clock speed, measured in Hertz (Hz), determines how many instructions a single processor can execute.
- Core count relates to performance. The more cores, the more tasks a processor can handle simultaneously.
- Cache size provides a gauge for how much time the processor requires to access data and instructions.
- Instruction set architecture (ISA) defines how a processor executes instructions. Different ISAs provide different performance environments.
- Power consumption is critical to device management. The more power, the more heat. This can spell trouble for smaller devices like sensors or telematics.
- Bus speed describes how quickly a microprocessor can communicate with external devices.
- Memory bandwidth refers to the amount of data a microprocessor can transfer at a given time. Higher transfer rates equate to better performance.
Another characteristic to explore is architecture.
Most microprocessors use either Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) or Complex Instruction Set Computer (CISC) for the ISA. The primary difference is that RISC architecture systems execute only one instruction per clock cycle, while CISC architecture systems perform so many actions that it takes several clock cycles to complete.
Today’s modern microprocessors power advanced technology like AI and machine learning (ML). They enable systems to process large amounts of information collected from telematics devices, like sensor data, vehicle location and driver behavior.
These insights can help produce advanced fleet management systems, improve fuel efficiency and optimize vehicle performance, among other applications.
Additionally, microprocessors can collect data from various sensors and transmit it wirelessly to a central database. Fleet managers can work with ML systems to use this information for real-time data collection and analysis—helping teams make data-driven decisions about vehicle usage, predictive maintenance needs and route optimization.
Lastly, modern microprocessor technology powers the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution in trucking.
Low-power processors, in particular, make it possible for connected ecosystems of devices to act together and communicate. Telematics hardware, sensors, trackers and telematics software tools all work together to help fleet leaders remotely manage, track and understand assets to optimize for productivity, safety, compliance and sustainability.
Microprocessors in Trucking: Beyond the Present
The current microprocessor landscape is delivering next-generation innovations in trucking. But, holding true to Moore’s Law, microprocessor technology is advancing at breakneck speeds.
This will inevitably lead to advancements in several key areas:
- Autonomous vehicles
- Edge computing
- Green technologies
As microprocessors become faster at processing data, more data-intensive applications become realistic.
For example, autonomous vehicles (AVs), also known as autonomous driving systems, are a constant hot topic in the industry. Commercial “driver out” operations require an immense amount of data. From tracking road conditions to processing LIDAR data in real time, cutting-edge microprocessors are necessary to support the future of AV technology.
More and more data will need processing at the edge, that is to say, in the truck’s cab itself.
This makes edge computing a parallel technology that fuels AV advancement. For fleet managers and drivers, this is a huge opportunity for better real-time decision-making.
But, creating all these technology surfaces invites new threats.
As our reliance on microprocessor technology and connected networks progresses, so do cybersecurity threats.
Meeting these challenges head-on requires the right protection. In this case, from encryption. Unfortunately, the more complex the encryption, the more a system needs computational resources.
As microprocessor technology advances, better encryption solutions will become available—protecting assets, data and IoT systems.
Another coming advancement powered by microprocessors is in green technologies.
With more data processing capabilities, fleet managers and industry leadership can shift toward more efficient green practices to cut costs, maximize efficiency and optimize productivity.
Here is how that might work:
- Electric trucks—microprocessors can optimize power consumption and monitor energy use for better energy-efficient operations.
- Regenerative braking systems—microprocessors can monitor and control kinetic energy transfers for enhanced braking performance.
- System control—microprocessors can control energy-intensive systems like air conditioning and lighting to reduce consumption.
By enabling the optimization of power consumption and energy usage, microprocessors can help reduce the carbon footprint of the industry and promote a more sustainable future.
The Microprocessor Revolution Driving the Future of Trucking
The microprocessor evolution is the bedrock of modern technology and, in turn, the digital transformation of the trucking industry.
Having scalable solutions that revolutionize industry standards means today’s fleet management systems are optimized to tackle common challenges in vehicle performance, driver safety, compliance and overall logistical planning.
At Morey, we’re invested in providing the technology you need to connect assets and integrate within the Internet of Things—providing businesses with the data they need to amplify strategic growth.
If you want to learn about what advanced trucking technologies like IoT can do for your business, be sure to connect with our business development team or request a quote today.