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NHTSA Has No Software Engineers To Analyze Toyota 459

Posted by kdawson
from the analog-agency-in-a-digital-world dept.
thecarchik writes "An official from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told investigators that the agency doesn't employ any electrical engineers or software engineers, leaving them woefully unable to investigate correctly what caused the most recent Toyota recall. A modern luxury car has something close to 100 million lines of software code in it, running on 70 to 100 microprocessors. And according to consultant Frost & Sullivan, that number will rise to 200 to 300 million lines within a few years. And the software that controls the 'drive-by-wire' accelerators of Toyota and Lexus vehicles is one potential culprit in the tangled collection of issues, allegations, and recalls of many of those vehicles for so-called 'sudden acceleration' problems."
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NHTSA Has No Software Engineers To Analyze Toyota

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  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @05:18PM (#31250506)
    ... there is plenty of talent out there for them to hire - even if only on a project by project basis.
  • by quantumplacet (1195335) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @05:30PM (#31250712)
  • Re:consultants (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @05:34PM (#31250808) Journal

    Given how much of our vehicles are run by computer, I don't think there should ever be a lack of demand for software engineers at the NHTSA.

  • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @05:57PM (#31251226)

    Anything street legal without a needing a special waiver for emissions.

  • Re:Heads better roll (Score:5, Informative)

    by eh2o (471262) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @05:59PM (#31251266)

    Years of deregulation and resource starvation have strangulated our regulatory agencies to the point where they are unable to act.

    Much of this based on Greenspan-style Libertarian philosophies that market forces can correct any problem including fraud and crime, a position which he himself has now renounced and we as a people have yet to heed.

    Since the late 80s we have been riding on a giant ponzi scheme and its all coming crashing down right now. And yet, nothing. I expect things to get much worse.

  • by ircmaxell (1117387) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @06:05PM (#31251370) Homepage
    Go to a car dealer. Look. Every car sold since 1996 (At least in the US, and I assume the rest of the world) today has at least an ECM (Engine Control Module) which is just a fancy name for a computer controlling the engine. That's what the government mandated OBD-2 program was (OBD == On Board Diagnostics). The number of cars that are completely computer controlled (drive by wire) is far lower, but higher than you'd think.

    I had an '05 Chevy Cobalt that had "computer assisted" electromechanical power steering. Basically, what I found out from the dealer after the computer controlling it failed (and I lost all power steering) is that the computer (BCM, Body Control Module) takes inputs from the ABS system, Traction control (if equipped), speedometer, accelerometers and about a dozen other sensors and computes the way it thinks you want to be steering. Then it provides an "intelligent" boost in that direction. I must say, it worked really well in the snow and when fishtailing (it made if VERY difficult to over-correct and put it into a spin). But when it failed, I'd be in the middle of a curve on the highway when all power steering went out... Luckily they were smart enough to put a kill switch in to prevent it from coming back on while the car was moving (I could just imagine struggling through a corner when all of a sudden it came back)... It turns out that it was a software issue in the first place (they updated the software, and it never happened again). I got rid of the car a few years later for other, more significant reasons...

    The benefits of computer control are good, but there needs to be intelligent fail-safes put in place to prevent disaster when something does go wrong (not if, when)...
  • by saccade.com (771661) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @06:06PM (#31251378) Homepage Journal
    I strongly suspect the "100 million lines of code" is BS. Most of the "ECUs" are small microcontrollers that would be lucky to hold 5,000 lines of code, let alone millions. Either the professor is inflating the code size estimate to make himself seem important, or the systems are designed by complete idiots.
  • GS (Score:2, Informative)

    by zogger (617870) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @06:14PM (#31251510) Homepage Journal

    Clinton signed the law repealing glass steagall. Whether a veto by him would have been overturned is moot, he still signed the thing. They should have called it the "let wall street and the casino bank hustlers go crackhead apeshit with your money" act. That's one of the biggees, not the only, but one, of the reasons we are in an economic mess now.

    I'm a small government guy by nature, but some regulations are always in order. Pure anarchy market forces lead to monopolies and cartels, and that's about it. Because predatory crooks rise to the top levels of giving orders.. and that's business and ggovernment, both.

      That's why there needs to be oversight, and why we need more pure government "kick em all out!" efforts occasionally, and why we need but don't have yet "corporate death penalities". The crooks eventually take over, it always happens, not much you can do to prevent it, so all you can do is slow them down a little. And even then, with oversight and slowing them down, they eventually get firmly entrenched at all the order giving levels, so you have no choice other than starting over again from scratch. Very broadly historically speaking of course.

  • by surferx0 (1206364) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @06:37PM (#31251876)

    But when it failed, I'd be in the middle of a curve on the highway when all power steering went out... Luckily they were smart enough to put a kill switch in to prevent it from coming back on while the car was moving (I could just imagine struggling through a corner when all of a sudden it came back)... It turns out that it was a software issue in the first place (they updated the software, and it never happened again). I got rid of the car a few years later for other, more significant reasons...

    This doesn't really make sense to me as I used to drive cars with no power steering, and at freeway speed the force of resistance on the wheel in a car without power steering really won't be any different than any modern car with power steering. The only time you would really "struggle" with turning with no power steering car would be in a parking lot, you will never struggle with turning anything at freeway speed.

  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @06:53PM (#31252088)
    1. A car designed for manual steering is quite different than one designed for power steering.
    2. There is a wide range of speed and turn radius conditions between straight freeway and parking lot.
  • by Monkey_Genius (669908) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @06:58PM (#31252138)
    ...you will never struggle with turning anything at freeway speed.

    Unless of course the hydraulic assist from the power steering pump is lost due to a pump failure or broken belt -essentially the same thing. Then the steering becomes very difficult as you have to supply the 'power' necessary to force the hydraulic fluid through the steering gear and the failed pump. This is also made more difficult as most power assisted steering has a higher ratio -fewer number of turns lock-to-lock- than a manual (non-power assisted) steering gear.
  • by CapnStank (1283176) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @06:59PM (#31252142) Homepage
    A professor in my first year of university told me something that has stuck with me for years:

    "You can never design a product that will never fail. Whether it is your incompetents or someone else's the product will fail. As an engineer it is your duty to provide fail safes as to not cause any bodily harm to the user or others."

    I still wonder where the engineers where who saw the flaws in the system two years ago. I don't believe that this 'software' issue went unnoticed for THAT long.
  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:05PM (#31252210) Journal

    He's already proved he can create government jobs. The federal government is now larger than it ever has in history.

    [citation needed]

    Are you aware that there were more federal government employees in the 1980s under Reagan than there are today?

    Are you aware that there were more government employees in the 70s under Nixon, Ford, and Carter than there are today?

    Go take your horseshit somewhere else.

    Sources: Article on Bush increasing the federal employment rolls [washingtonpost.com], just to point out your misplaced ire.
    All fed employees, 1962 to 2008 [opm.gov] Here you go. What's that? Federal employment peaked at the end of Reagan's term and decreased under Clinton, only to increase again slighlty under Bush? How can that be, in your misinformed little world?
    An article pointing out the increase in federal employees due to Obama's stimulus packages [usatoday.com] as of last September. It was newsworthy that 25k federal employees were added from Dec 08 to Aug 09. FYI, more have been added since, with 33k added in Jan 2010 as an example. Still far under what we had in the 80s under Reagan.

    Get a clue. Dig into the numbers before you make erroneous claims parroting your stupid right-wing ideological leaders.

  • by b4dc0d3r (1268512) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @07:22PM (#31252428)

    I've seen that feature, basically it helps when switching from cruise control to manual. You put your foot on the gas and release CC, and you can maintain speed. I'm not sure if the CC presses the accelerator in place of a human, or if the CC controls fuel flow and then adjusts the accelerator to match.

    What I do want to know is how many crashed cars had the cruise control "on" but not set. My CC light can be on but not controlling speed until I hit "set". And if I hit the brake or clutch (it's a manual) it goes from "set" back to just "on" where I can control the pedal. I'm betting this is one of those cases where you turn on CC, disengage it through brake/clutch, and at some point CC confuses whether it's "set" (controlling speed) or "on" (waiting to take over).

    There is a variable which keeps track of the current target speed, whether it's engaged or not. You can hit the brake and then hit 'resume' and it remembers the speed. There's a separate variable for whether it should be engaged or not. This variable should be correct at all times, and never changed as a side effect of something else.

    I wouldn't be surprised to see this implemented as the "remembered speed" variable, which Resume uses, and the "current speed" variable, which is 0 meaning disengaged, and positive meaning engaged at that speed. That way you don't have to check :

    if (engaged && speed > 0)

    instead you check just:

    if (speed)

    Embedded systems requiring optimization, someone might be tempted to do this. All you need is an edge case as you say to set this negative (there is a 'decrease/increase' feature on most CC), or faulty memory, or even bits flipped by nearby electromagnetic equipment. You don't even need badly written code, just poor insulation.

    Ah screw it, give me the firmware and I'll disassemble it.

  • by cvtan (752695) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @10:11PM (#31254346)
    BMW has had drive by wire throttles in production since 1988 750iL V12. Slowly migrated down to cheaper models over the years. Not much in the way of serious problems. Stepper motors running the throttle can fail, but this is more of an annoying expense than a safety disaster. My MINI Cooper has drive by wire and works fine. Makes it easy to implement cruise control and traction control. Throttle control is by dual redundant pots that "vote" on throttle opening. If something acts screwy, it goes into limp-home mode. The only throttle control problems I've had were with cars with mechanical linkage that got bound up from rust/old age.
  • by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @10:46PM (#31254660)

    While there is truth in what you are saying on complexity, as someone who has invested a lot of time understanding why Bosch has some fuel pumps failing in a non-passive fashion on stationary engines... there are a lot of assumptions built in, and many problems are only found by trial and error.

  • by jhol13 (1087781) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @12:13AM (#31255376)

    No clue, but I very much doubt the figure.

    100 million lines is more than in a normal Linux installation (with OS, openoffice, gnome/kde, firefox, etc.)

Evolution is a million line computer program falling into place by accident.

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