Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
NASA Transportation Science

NASA Summoned To Fix Prius Problems 380

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the tang-is-not-always-the-answer dept.
coondoggie writes "If you want to solve a major engineering mystery, why not bring in some of the world's best engineers? The US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today said it was doing just that by bringing in NASA engineers with expertise in areas such as computer controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference, and software integrity to help tackle the issue of unintended vehicle acceleration in Toyotas. The NHTSA review of the electronic throttle control systems in Toyotas is to be completed by late summer." We're really in trouble when NASA has no choice but to call Bruce Willis.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NASA Summoned To Fix Prius Problems

Comments Filter:
  • Floor Mats (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sycodon (149926) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @03:48PM (#31676074)

    If the problems with the shuttles were related to floor mats then perhaps NASA could help. Otherwise, it's just another set of computer scientists looking over a few million lines of code they didn't write, trying to find a defect that has supposedly manifest itself less than a few hundred times out of million of cars and probably billions of miles driven.

  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SBrach (1073190) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @03:49PM (#31676098)
    Yes. Toyota decided the least convoluted way of admitting to software issues was to have a government agency of a foreign country (NHTSA) call in another agency (NASA) to look for software bugs as part of that foreign country's investigation into the matter.
  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @03:51PM (#31676136)
    Or it's an admission that the administration wants to make a public circus out of this in order to protect their investment in GM and Chrysler. Or maybe it's an admission that the NHTS doesn't have experience in embedded computer systems and grabbed some from elsewhere.
  • by p51d007 (656414) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @03:53PM (#31676164)
    and when it is all said & done, they will conclude people are hitting the GAS instead of the BRAKE.
  • Re:Floor Mats (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bobfrankly1 (1043848) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @03:54PM (#31676192)

    If the problems with the shuttles were related to floor mats then perhaps NASA could help. Otherwise, it's just another set of computer scientists looking over a few million lines of code they didn't write, trying to find a defect that has supposedly manifest itself less than a few hundred times out of million of cars and probably billions of miles driven.

    Which means the newest guy at NASA will find it in the first week, and solve it by adding a semi-colon.

  • by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @03:54PM (#31676202) Homepage Journal

    I think this is a stunt on 2 levels:

    1. Public relations need to be fixed somehow, so calling in NASA shows that the company is 'dead serious' about fixing this problem and they are going for the best people to do it, right?

    2. A small token of appreciation to the government of USA by hiring NASA people, creating some employment, probably this is done with an involvement of a senator or two, some governor maybe, whatever, some politicians will get involved and this is probably important for Toyota now.

    3. Something else, again not really related to the actual car problem, but trying to save the company's ass.

  • by ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @03:55PM (#31676214)
    You do realize the government could flush every penny invested in GM and Chrysler down the toilet and not miss it, right? Dragging down Toyota to prop up GM and Chrysler might make sense if the federal government was dependent on their success, but it isn't. And even if they took down Toyota, that wouldn't prevent the dozen or so other non-gov't owned brands from rushing to fill the gap (and likely succeeding given the shitty reputation of GM and Chrysler over the past couple decades). Without a motive, inventing conspiracy theories in advance seems rather pointless.
  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ircmaxell (1117387) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:03PM (#31676350) Homepage

    Watch for it to get very, very expensive for Toyota to sell cars in the US.

    And if the reason it is so cheap for them now is because of inadequate development practices (testing, code review, etc), I'll be all the more happier to pay the extra price. The question isn't did Toyota fuck-up here. The question is how may fuck-ups where there before they got caught. And how many fuck-ups are there in the rest of the automotive industry that just haven't surfaced (because of any one of a number of reasons)...

  • Slashdot fail? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Manip (656104) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:03PM (#31676358)

    This is Slashdot and we suggest the most insane stuff be Open Source (e.g. "Why isn't my Microwave under GPL?"). But yet when we have an absolutely perfect opportunity to suggest that cars should be REQUIRED to be Open Source for public safety we drop the ball. Come on guys, we can use the power of Open Source and "many eyes" to literally save lives. You could be the geek that finds that piece of code!

  • Re:Floor Mats (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ArsonSmith (13997) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:04PM (#31676368) Journal

    I'd say the control systems have become far more complex in cars than in airplanes or rockets. The problem being that they don't need to have all the redundancy under most circumstances. This is one of the few places though where it's similar to an airplane falling out of the sky. 99% of the time though if something fails in a car's control system it just means sitting on the side of the road waiting for AAA.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:05PM (#31676378)

    You do realize the government could flush every penny invested in GM and Chrysler down the toilet and not miss it, right? Dragging down Toyota to prop up GM and Chrysler might make sense if the federal government was dependent on their success, but it isn't. And even if they took down Toyota, that wouldn't prevent the dozen or so other non-gov't owned brands from rushing to fill the gap (and likely succeeding given the shitty reputation of GM and Chrysler over the past couple decades). Without a motive, inventing conspiracy theories in advance seems rather pointless.

    You are correct if you talking the $$ investment... the votes the politicians get is what matters, they come from the lobbying and support of GM ect...

  • by glueball (232492) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:07PM (#31676416)

    Motive: Millions of union members of GM and their suppliers depend on the success and will continue to vote for the current government to insure others' lack of success--especially the company that put GM to #2.

  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by confused one (671304) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:08PM (#31676446)

    If NASA cannot find a problem, then Toyota is off the hook.

    If NASA does find a problem, then Toyota can say -- "It was such a subtle problem, it took NASA's resources and expertise to find and fix it."

    Either way, it can be spun positively by the PR folks.

  • Re:Apparently... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuantumRiff (120817) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:09PM (#31676464)

    In all seriousness, no, its not.

    They need to call in the guys at IGT. They make the majority of the slot machines and video poker machines in the world. If anyone knows about ensuring data integrity, and error checking, etc in embedded systems, it is them.

    Its amazing how much detail and error checking go into any system dealing with money, but not with human lives.

  • by Glendale2x (210533) <slashdot@ninjam[ ]ey.us ['onk' in gap]> on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:14PM (#31676558) Homepage

    Three of those that you cited were incidents that caused loss of crew and vehicle, some quite dramatic. Had they kept the resulting investigation internal for those were very public events, they could have been accused of covering something up. Or maybe they wouldn't have truly found the fault, or deluded themselves into thinking it was just an accident. What if we never knew that engineers were requesting imaging of Columbia? Or that engineers were trying to say "no go" to Challenger? Whatever they were doing with their own internal review processes apparently weren't working quite right, so get someone else to look at it and give them a kick in the ass if needed. It's not really ironic at all.

  • Re:Apparently... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by egburr (141740) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:18PM (#31676664) Homepage

    They didn't do so well either....

    Colorado Woman Celebrates $42 Million Slot Machine Win Until Casino Says Machine Malfunctioned
    http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/colorado-42-mil-jackpot-winner-jack/story?id=10235836 [go.com]

  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eth1 (94901) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:27PM (#31676826)

    And as a bonus, the US taxpayers get to pay for it instead of Toyota.

  • Re:So... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CoderJoe (97563) * on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:34PM (#31676984)

    That driver error story goes entirely off of fatality numbers, which could be skewed by the older folks having slower reflexes, being panicky, and possibly having other health problems as a result of the incident, such as having a heart attack. Younger folk tend to have faster reflexes and were taught in drivers ed what they should do in such a case. Older folk may not have.

    The story also seems to be "driver error vs mechanical". They completely ignore the very complex electrical systems in newer cars. Many cars are drive-by-wire systems, where none of the controls are mechanically connected to the parts they affect. If there is a problem in the drive-by-wire control computers, hopefully NASA's engineers would find it. Aeronautics companies might be a better choice for a code review, though, since they have been using fly-by-wire for quite a bit longer than car companies. NASA is probably a good choice for checking out shielding and power surge concerns, however, since their stuff has to work without the benefit of the Earth's additional shielding.

  • Re:What If (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CoderJoe (97563) * on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:38PM (#31677092)

    CAN protocol may be used between modules, but how about within the modules themselves, either to create the CAN messages, or after decoding the messages to act upon them?

  • by jwiegley (520444) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:39PM (#31677110)

    Yes, I think people are idiots. lots of accidents are cause by poorly maintained floormats, doing your lipstick, texting, etc. This isn't the problem here. There are way too many incidents of various natures to be accounted for by this.

    Yes, I think electromagnetic radiation exists. Yes, it can produce measurable effects. This, is also, not the problem here. EMF does not cause motors to turn with any appreciable torque. Modern electronics are sufficiently robust to this type of sporadic interference to account for this.

    The problem here is in the code. I have written embedded software. It is WAAAY too easy to make a subtle mistake in an embedded environment that has limited processing power, highly asynchronous processing and a multitude of cooperating software and hardware modules. Further more, it can be a total bitch to debug these environments and the faults that they can exhibit can be nearly impossible to reproduce. And in EVERY case where I've seen "Hey, it shouldn't do that. The code doesn't have it doing that!" it turns that yes, it was doing exactly what the code had it do under those circumstances.
    So, Want to save time and money? Ignore looking at anything other than code. Analyze the hell out of the software and you will find the culprit lurking there. You can put me on record for predicting this. (if they even 'fess up to the cause once found.)

  • by rickb928 (945187) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:46PM (#31677214) Homepage Journal

    Yes, and if NASA let you or me drive their vehicles, their accident rate would be a bit higher...

    I'm now interested in how many astronauts and NASA engineers drive Toyotas, and if any have had this problem... Curious...

  • Re:Queue joke... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:48PM (#31677272)

    While mechanical acceleration is certainly a much less complex system, it doesn't completely remove the potential for problems. I know of an older guy whose cruise control would not disengage a couple of decades ago. It was stuck in the accelerate position. If you're in the 60+ age bracket, already going 65mph and your car suddenly floors the accelerator, it doesn't take long to pick up speed and reaction times might not be that great for the "elderly". He said it was pretty scary. Fortunately he had the sense to hit the brakes and turn the engine off, which then reset the cruise control (the brake pedal did not cause it to disengage).

    I think the bigger problem is that people are protected from learning good alert & defensive driving in all kinds of situations. For example, our city recently passed a no cell phone law while driving. The end result will be people that talk on their cells anyway but can't legally learn how to do it in a responsible and smart way. As a society we try so hard to protect people from any kind of danger that people freeze when any real danger occurs because they've never had to deal with it.

  • Re:What If (Score:3, Insightful)

    by phoenix321 (734987) * on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:49PM (#31677300)

    Depends on what the bit error rate is. And the bit rate per second.

    One error in 10^-15 bits could mean "a few months after the sun died" or "next friday somewhere on a rural road in western virginia" depending on that.

  • Re:So... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FlyMysticalDJ (1660959) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:52PM (#31677346)
    When I see someone say "That's not true." and nothing else, I almost exclusively interpret that as an empty post. If you know for a fact that that isn't true, then please, be more informative. Tell us what IS true. Or at least how you know that that is not true.
  • Re:Queue joke... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @05:39PM (#31678042) Homepage Journal
    It's not like purely mechanical accelerators never stuck though. Cables would freeze up or the return spring would wear out/snap and bam, full throttle. I actually learned to drive on a car that had this problem, which led to some rather scary moments--luckily it was a manual, so just hitting the clutch was enough to stop the car from going out of control.

    That said, why is it in these stories of runaway acceleration, that nobody slaps the thing into neutral and hits the brakes? The stories always read like "I was powerless to stop my deathcar!" but drivers have lots of options in situations like that. You can even just turn the car off and hope you haven't picked up a vacuum leak.
  • by brad3378 (155304) on Wednesday March 31, 2010 @12:46AM (#31682948)

    maybe younger drivers are more likely to notice the problem sooner and shift into neutral faster than older drivers?

You know that feeling when you're leaning back on a stool and it starts to tip over? Well, that's how I feel all the time. -- Steven Wright

Working...