An engine control unit (ECU), now called the powertrain control module (PCM), is a type of electronic control unit that controls a series of actuators on an internal combustion engine to ensure optimal engine performance. It does this by reading values from a multitude of sensors within the engine bay, interpreting the data using multidimensional performance maps (called lookup tables), and adjusting the engine actuators accordingly.
Before ECUs, air/fuel mixture, ignition timing, and idle speed were mechanically set and dynamically controlled by mechanical and pneumatic means. One of the earliest attempts to use such a unitized and automated device to manage multiple engine control functions simultaneously was the “Kommandogerät” created by BMW in 1939, for their 801 14-cylinder aviation radial engine. This device replaced the 6 controls used to initiate hard acceleration with one control in the 801 series-equipped aircraft. However, it had some problems: it would surge the engine, making close formation flying of the Fw 190 somewhat difficult, and at first it switched supercharger gears harshly and at random, which could throw the aircraft into an extremely dangerous stall or spin.
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