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.
- "Mr. Sikes, a Prius, Toyota Motor Company, and Certainty"
(March 15, 2010)
- "A Toyota Prius, Assumptions, and an Imperfect Witness"
(March 13, 2010)
- "Another Toyota Incident"
(March 10, 2010)
- "Toyota, Toyoda, and the United States Congress: Japan isn't America"
(February 24, 2010)
- "Toyota Cars Recalled: Again"
(February 9, 2010)
- "Toyota Cars Recalled: Because of Made-in-America Parts"
(January 30, 2010)
- "Toyota's Power Split Device (PSD) for Prius"
(March 29, 2008)