The AP and others are reporting that the US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reached out to NASA and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to help investigate the cause of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles.
"We are determined to get to the bottom of unintended acceleration. For the safety of the American driving public, we must do everything possible to understand what is happening. And that is why we are tapping the best minds around."
The press release said further, "The prestigious National Academy of Sciences - an independent body using top scientific experts - will examine the broad subject of unintended acceleration and electronic vehicle controls across the entire automotive industry. Separately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is the Department of Transportation’s auto safety agency, has enlisted 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 AP quotes Secretary LaHood as also saying, "We believe their outside expertise, fresh eyes and fresh research perhaps can tell us if electronics have played a role in these accelerations."
The investigation is expected to last 15 months and cost some $3 million.
Furthermore, the press release said that Secretary LaHood, "asked the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General to assess whether the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation conducted an adequate review of complaints of alleged unintended acceleration reported to NHTSA from 2002 to the present. The IG will also determine whether ODI had the appropriate number of personnel and staff expertise to assess and address the technical issues raised by the complaints and whether the data was sufficient to identify specific defects that caused unintended acceleration. That information will help DOT officials determine whether more resources are necessary for pursuing defect investigations."
As you may recall, NHTSA has only two electrical engineers on its investigative staff.
There has been no word as of yet from Toyota about the involvement of NASA and NAS, but I expect it will be publicly supportive but privately very dismayed.
Toyota's hopes this will reduce customer concerns about the quality, reliability and safety of its cars, as well as a way to help repair its reputation.
There were two paragraphs in the Times story that caught my eye: "Toyota also showed a group of visiting reporters a string of testing facilities at its headquarters in Toyota city: an X-ray machine that spots cracks in tiny auto parts, a 'hi-function shower' that sprays cars with water to check for leaks, and a heating and refrigeration chamber that tests cars in a range of extreme temperatures."
"Still, when asked how these high-tech machines could detect a more basic problem like accelerator
pedals’ getting stuck in floor mats, engineers could not provide an answer."
To solve that type of problem, Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota’s executive vice president responsible for quality assurance said in the Times story, you had to hear about it first from customers.
Not sure I like that answer.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.