Rocket Scientists Brought In To Investigate Runaway Toyotas
We were just mentioning that Toyota's "sudden unintended acceleration" problems are helping to bring the criticality of embedded systems to the general public's attention.
Well, now NASA is going to dig its spacey claws into the controversy. The federal inquiry into the cause of the acceleration issues that led to the recall of more than eight million cars worldwide has found the matter so flummoxing that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has asked NASA scientists to help out with the investigation.
Toyota has insisted that the acceleration problems are mechanical, relating to "sticky" gas pedals and, um, "gas pedal entrapment by floor mats." Many other experts insist the gremlins are lurking somewhere in Toyota's embedded electronic systems. "Eliminating mechanical and human failures leaves only electronics as the cause," said British engineers in a presentation last week.
Interestingly, after Toyota sales took a beating due to the recalls and surrounding controversy over the last several months, James Lentz, president of its American sales operations, announced this week that Toyota March sales rose 30 to 35 percent over March 2009 figures. It should be noted that those rosy figures coincide with very attractive lease deals and interest-free loan incentives, however.
But back to NASA, nine of their engineers with expertise in "computer controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference, and software integrity" have been asked to delve into Toyota's acceleration problems, the Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.
Moving forward, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also asked the DOT Inspector General to review whether the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Defect Investigation (ODI) even has the "necessary resources and systems" to identify and address safety defects on its own anymore.
It would appear not, so bring in the rocket scientists. And just to make sure LaHood made it known that the DOT isn't up to its own investigations anymore, he also announced that the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council will be brought in to "examine the broad subject of unintended acceleration and electronic vehicle controls across the entire industry over the course of 15 months."