Unwanted Auto Acceleration and Embedded Systems
Even though most Americans have British Petroleum in their crosshairs, Toyota may soon find itself back in the hotseat. In March, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) requested that two studies look at unwanted auto acceleration and electronic systems in cars. The first study, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will look specifically at Toyota. The second study will investigate the auto industry in general, and be conducted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
Initially, Toyota blamed the acceleration problems on floor mats and sticky gas pedals. Various Lexus and Toyota models were recalled, and their auto sales were halted until all the parts had been replaced. However many people, including some in Congress, speculate that electronic computer systems may have caused the problems.
Specifically, Congress is questioning whether these embedded systems could be getting interference from electromagnetic sources external to the car. They also want to know if other auto manufacturers could be having similar undiagnosed problems.
The NAS announced this week that they have picked a panel of thirteen engineers, academics, and safety specialists to conduct the study, which is scheduled to take 15 months. The first meeting will be held on June 30 in Washington, D.C. The DoT has charged the panel with investigating magnetic compatibility, magnetic interference and its effect on software and computer hardware.
In addition to acceleration, automotive embedded systems control just about every aspect of your car’s operation including fuel systems, transmission systems, and maintenance, just to name a few. They are also strongly utilized in hybrid electric vehicle control systems.
Prior to the 2010 models, mechanics needed to physically connect to the car to do diagnostics. Now, cars are going wireless. Embedded systems monitor the quality of the cars' oil and can send text messages when an oil change is needed. Soon there will be apps for soft or worn tires as well as worn brakes.
If external magnetic radiation can interfere with automotive embedded systems, engineers need to know about it. It is important to figure how these new systems can be tampered with externally, and provide shielding or security measures.