Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Toyota Brakes: NASA Gets Involved

"NASA to help on Toyota probe"
Reuters (March 30, 2010)
"U.S. auto safety regulators are turning to scientists from the NASA space and aeronautics agency for help analyzing Toyota electronic throttles to see if they are behind unintended acceleration, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said."

"Separate from the work of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists, LaHood said, experts from the National Academy of Sciences will lead a study of unintended acceleration across the auto industry, a broader issue raised by congressional lawmakers at recent hearings on Toyota Motor Corp.

" 'We are determined to get to the bottom of unintended acceleration,' LaHood said in an interview with Reuters ahead of the formal announcement on Tuesday.

"The Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is just beginning its review of Toyota electronic throttles, which have come under heightened scrutiny following the recall of 8.5 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles over the past six months for unintended acceleration.

"While the government and Toyota blame mechanical or equipment flaws for the problem, questions have been raised about whether NHTSA over the years adequately handled investigations into motorist and other complaints of possible electronic throttle problems.

"The NHTSA review is to be completed by late summer, after which the highway traffic safety agency would then determine whether a formal investigation of Toyota throttles is warranted. Such a probe would set in motion a process that could lead to a recall...."

I'm glad to hear this. There doesn't seem to be much doubt that more Toyotas have had odd accidents than a person would expect.

Publicity Stunt?

Congress is involved - but I don't think this is a publicity stunt. And my hat's off to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for teaming up with NASA on this.

"...[Transportation Secretary Ray] LaHood has maintained that NHTSA could handle the analysis itself, but said suggestions from lawmakers at congressional hearings prompted him to consider outside help.

" 'We've used them before. We've heard that they may have some influence,' LaHood said of his decision to ask NASA to help...."

The NHTSA had NASA work with them, sorting out issues with electronic stability control and airbags.

Which I think makes sense. Complex electronics are a relatively new development in automotive technology. NASA has been sending robots out to explore the Soar system for decades - and they're experienced in dealing with electronic cybernetics.

The Reuters article cites the floor mat scenario that may explain some of the accelerator issues. That sort of technical problem is nothing new - and I'm confident that federal regulators understand glitches like that and can deal with them.

Control systems that are similar to the fly-by-wire systems used in many aircraft: that's a fairly new development in ground vehicles.

Let a Machine Take Control?!

I think these complex systems are, basically, a good idea: but it was a hard sell.

When anti-lock brakes came out, I wasn't at all convinced that it was a good idea to take control decisions away from the driver and have a feedback loop handle the matter of keeping the wheels spinning. I still don't think it's an ideal solution: but then, I learned to drive on the border between Minnesota and North Dakota. I learned how to keep from skidding on ice, and how to get out of a skid if one started. The family van has anti-lock brakes now - and I've found that they work. It's a convenience: I can attend to other aspects of driving while the ALB system handles the ice. I do have to remember, though, that some of the tricks I learned won't work now.

Why Wait So Long?

The Reuters article says that: "The NHTSA review is to be completed by late summer". That's months away! We Americans tend to be a jittery lot, I think: and our notion of "a long time" isn't what it is in other cultures. Under the circumstances, I'm not surprised that a thorough trouble-shooting of a complex electronic/mechanical system is expected to take months.

It's not quite the same thing, but forensic investigations of aircraft accidents can take years.

Related posts:


Mauricem said...

NASA? Really? If the problem is this hard to figure out maybe Toyota can't be blamed for not fixing it sooner after all.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Thanks for the comment.

NASA. Really.

I'm not at all surprised that whatever is going wrong hasn't been promptly identified and dealt with.

The issue with control systems in a fairly narrow range of Toyota products appears to be an intermittent malfunction. The sort of thing where the car makes an odd noise when you're making a left turn. Sometimes. But not always. And hardly ever when you're near a garage.

For most of us, intermittent problems are minor annoyances.

When the result of a malfunction that happens maybe once in 1,000,000 uses of a system is the death of the people using it - it's a little hard to figure out exactly what went wrong.

Particularly since, in this case, the system appears to be 'normal' after the wreck is pulled together.

And, again: yes. NASA. Really.

Used Cars NJ said...

Thanks for spending some time to put this interesting material together. I’ll certainly bookmark your blog to return again. Maintain the great job.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Used Cars NJ,

My pleasure. This blog isn't a 'car blog,' but this Toyota situation may warrant another post or two.

I sincerely hope that the folks in Toyota can figure out what happened - and how the glitch(es) made it into their retail network. The company had a very solid reputation for good engineering.

winter park toyota rav4 said...

Well the ALB system of Toyota is only for the ice area and i think except this area this is of no value. Isn't it?

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

winter park toyota rav4,

I see your point. Folks in your Florida location don't have to deal with ice on the roads, as a rule.

However, a surprising number of people live in parts of the world where ice forms during several months of the year - including me.

I tend to see the ALB, or anti-lock-brake, system of some value in connection with the low-traction situation I encounter most often.

Although icy roads are one reason for having an ALB, water on road surfaces can produce similarly traction-free conditions. It's worse when the water is deep, or when oil or debris like leaves is on the road.

In principle, even fine sand could reduce traction.

"Of no value" is not how I'd describe an ALB system.

lake worth toyota prius said...

Well ,I think Mauricem is right Toyota can't be blamed.If there is some problem Toyota most be solve that.Thanks

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

lake worth toyota prius,

I'll go along with the "Toyota can't be blamed," in the sense that I really, seriously, doubt that anyone in the company sat down and said something like, "we're going to let a deadly malfunction get into our product, so we'll be shoveling out of the mess for years."

People, as a rule, aren't that self-destructive. Not if they also get into decision-making positions in an international company.

On the other hand, although I am not on the same page as the "Toyota is icky" point of view - I have to think that a SNAFU of this size is the direct or indirect result of at least one lapse of judgment, somewhere in the company.

Considering what the research, legal trouble, and bad publicity is doing to their profits - my guess is that at least one person inside Toyota is working very hard to find out what went wrong - and keep it from ever happening again.

winter park used car said...

Thanks the author and other commenter of this article. Now everything is cleared for me. It's fruitful for landing this web page.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

winter park used car,

My pleasure.

Everyone else,

Turns out, winter park used car and winter park toyota rav4 have the same URL: www.centralfloridatoyota.com, Central Florida Toyota in Orlando, Florida: where folks would understandably have a rather keen interest in what's happening with Toyota.

palm beach used car said...

Well,you are right winter park toyota rav4 I am agree with you the ALB system of Toyota is value less for this area.Thanks

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Anybody who lives in the Orlando or Palm Beach, Florida areas, I'm curious.

Here's a copy of the last two comments, presumably from someone associated with Toyota dealerships in Orlando and Palm Beach, Florida -

" winter park used car said...

"Thanks the author and other commenter of this article. Now everything is cleared for me. It's fruitful for landing this web page."


" palm beach used car said...

"Well,you are right winter park toyota rav4 I am agree with you the ALB system of Toyota is value less for this area.Thanks"

Is this a local or regional dialect? I realize that they could both be written by folks who are new to this country - or a sort of practical joke - but it's also a long time since I've traveled around, and languages change.

Seriously: I'm just curious.

toyota car dealers nj said...

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