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Toyota Pedal Issue Highlights Move To Electronics

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the drive-by-wire dept.

Transportation 913

cyclocommuter writes with an excerpt from a brief WSJ story on increasing electronic control of car components: "The gas pedal system used Toyota Motor Co.'s recall crisis was born from a movement in the auto industry to rely more on electronics to carry out a vehicle's most critical functions. The intricacy of such systems, which replace hoses and hydraulic fluid with computer chips and electrical sensors, has been a focus as Toyota struggled to find the cause for sudden acceleration of vehicles that led the company to halt sales of eight models this week."

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Safety Critical (4, Insightful)

Renraku (518261) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973194)

At least in one case, the brakes failed, the accelerator stuck, and the person didn't know how to turn the car off because it was a rental and used a push-button ignition. Also, they couldn't put it into neutral because it had a push-button shifter as well. People really should learn about the car before they drive it, but this is a monumental fuck-up on the part of Toyota. I think that we can do the push-button stuff CORRECTLY, but this isn't the way to do it.

Re:Safety Critical (5, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973222)

Well, maybe all-electronic cars should be required to have a highly visible button labelled "Emergency Off" - I think I don't have to explain what this should (and shouldn't!) do.

Re:Safety Critical (4, Insightful)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973440)

Or maybe we should recognize that multi-ton incendiary missiles capable of travelling at a hundred miles per hour on a level surface should be required to have at least 3 manual systems: Shifting, braking, and emergency shutoff.

Re:Safety Critical (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30973644)

Regarding manual shifting: no need, just an emergency clutch disconnect (i.e. neutral gear).

Re:Safety Critical (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973728)

Engine braking?

Re: Shifting, braking, and emergency shutoff (5, Funny)

snikulin (889460) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973684)

'kill -9 car' works just fine!
Everything else is for n00bs.

Re:Safety Critical (2, Informative)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973732)

Or maybe we should recognize that multi-ton incendiary missiles capable of travelling at a hundred miles per hour on a level surface should be required to have at least 3 manual systems: Shifting, braking, and emergency shutoff.

All current production cars already have this. Every car produced for sale in North America or Europe (at least) is required to have a manually-operated emergency brake, and a crash safety switch that shuts the engine down in the event of a crash. And even cars with an automatic transmission have a way to manually shift the car into a low gear (1/2).

Re:Safety Critical (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30973470)

My girlfriend recently purchased a new car that has push button ignition. She decided to show off the car to one of her friends and took it out for a demo drive at night (and luckily only around the local suburbs). While driving, the friend was attempting to locate the navigation controls and pressed the ignition button... which completely turned the car off and left the two of them coasting in the dark with no headlights. Needless to say they freaked out but managed to stop the car without incident. Still, entirely too easy to accidentally disable a moving vehicle.

Re:Safety Critical (5, Insightful)

ctmurray (1475885) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973756)

On Toyota's with this button you have to hold it down for 3 seconds before it turns off the car. In fact the long time hold has been criticized in relation to these accidents. Since you only have to touch to turn on, when you want to turn off in an emergency you also just poke at the button and nothing happens. In the panic of the moment you don't even consider trying again and holding down for a longer time.

Re:Safety Critical (4, Funny)

statusbar (314703) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973484)

People would understand a set of "Ctrl-Alt-Delete" buttons on the dash..

--jeffk++

Re:Safety Critical (4, Insightful)

Third Position (1725934) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973252)

Well, I'm not sure this incident accurately represents the situation. On balance, the electronic components are safer than the mechanical ones. Electronic components can be automatically monitored and compensated for much more easily than mechanical ones. Sure, this incident isn't good, but one of the reasons it stands out is that safety issues caused by deficient electronic component failures are so rare. On balance, accidents caused by component failure in modern cars are rarer than they've ever been.

Re:Safety Critical (5, Insightful)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973452)

citation needed. I'd say the opposite, huge number of replaced PCM modules and sensors show electronics are short lived, needlessly complex solutions offered in lieu of time tested mechanical and hydraulic ones. For example, guess what can happen if O2 sensor in exhaust system is faulty, car can drop rpm to idle then rev high in ten second pulses, very dangerous on highway. Happened to me, found myself in 4000 lbs. bucking steel bronco. Computer should not have so much control over throttle, just a small amount of mixture and timing adjustment, not complete potentially deadly control.

Electronics have a proven track record (5, Informative)

BetterSense (1398915) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973622)

I've been around the long-haul trucking business for decades, and I hate to break it to you, but for well over 10 years now, big rigs have had electronic throttle position sensors, with a little bitty, not even particularly well-protected wire running from the pedal to the engine ECM. This is ever since Detroit Diesel came out with their electronically controlled engine in the '90s which was an amazing breakthrough in mileage and reliability. So basically every truck that we've bought or ran for over ten years has had an electronic throttle pedal, and there have been zero problems, except occasionally the TPS itself needs replaced (like every million miles or so). In this case it looks like Toyota fucked up, but that doesn't mean using electronic controls is a bad way to go, because clearly lots of things seem to be able to implement them properly, including airplanes.

Re:Safety Critical (5, Informative)

burnin1965 (535071) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973686)

1992 - 1995 Isuzu Trooper recall for accelerator cable stuck causing uncontrolled acceleration [consumeraffairs.com]

2003 Ford Escape stuck throttle cables result in uncontrolled acceleration [aboutautomobile.com]

2002 Ford Explorers investigated for stuck throttle cables in cold weather regions [dot.gov]

1999 - 2004 Suzuki Grand Vitara, recalled due to fraying accelerator cables that result in uncontrolled acceleration and potential crash. [lemonauto.com]

I guess we need to go back to the tried and true horse and buggy as these cable controls do not have a good history of reliability. But we may need to investigate the buggy brakes to ensure the can overpower the horses.

I'm not sure what happened in your bucking Bronco but O2 sensors do not control throttle position, worst case scenario would be an oscillating idle RPM as the computer adjusted fuel mixture from lean to rich. As long as your not touching the accelerator its not going to accelerate uncontrollably and will simply run like shit.

Re:Safety Critical (1)

Mashdar (876825) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973776)

The electronic components are only safer than the mechanical ones if they are implemented properly and redundantly. That a single component failure in a fairly hostile environment can force a crash is not encouraging. And even Star-Trek has "manual overrides" :D

Re:Safety Critical (1)

wrencherd (865833) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973272)

If the brakes failed and the accelerator was stuck, it wasn't really a problem with the buttons, was it?

Re:Safety Critical (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30973278)

the person didn't know how to turn the car off because it was a rental and used a push-button ignition

The problem with any tech is that it's nearly impossible to make it perfect. In some situations like airbags, you can make the system very simple and independent, so it's not prone to failure. But when there are scenarios that result in death, you need to be able to *shut it down* very quickly. In a car, that means literally turning the engine off.

If you can't do that in the car in question, that's insane. If it's not obvious to do so, it only highlights the life-or-death importance of good interface design, which on most cars seems to be outrageously awful. You should not reasonably have to open a manual to change the fucking clock.

Re:Safety Critical (1)

15Bit (940730) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973694)

The problem with any tech is that it's nearly impossible to make it perfect. In some situations like airbags, you can make the system very simple and independent, so it's not prone to failure.

Airbags aren't perfect. I know that for sure as i blew the side impact bag in a VW when a tyre popped. How do you think the car knows whether to deploy an airbag? A lateral g sensor, or in more advanced systems there may be sensors in the doors/pillars. Its still electronics that can go wrong.

Re:Safety Critical (4, Insightful)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973288)

I'm sure push button transmissions could be done correctly. The problem isn't with the tech, the problem is with standardization. The way things are now is that you can get into just about any car and the shifting will be very, very similar. When you are under pressure you will react the way you've done things the previous thousand times, so having transmission shifters standardized is a kind of safety feature. It would be a big shift (heh) to get everybody to be used to a new way of doing this very basic thing. Would it be worth it?

Re:Safety Critical (1)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973626)

Shifting is similar, in that a lever is moved in most cases, but the specifics of which way to move it, where it is located, and the need for a third pedal are not standard. There are some cars and trucks that have a column mounted shifter. There are some with a floor mounted one. In exotic cars there are shift pedals, IIRC. And then from there, there are manual and automatic versions of these, and various patterns even for the same general type of transmission (eg 5 speed manual), and for manuals, a range of gears (3-7). Unsynchronized manuals are a bit more different. Finally, some shifters are not labeled, or the label has worn off from use.

Re:Safety Critical (0)

danomac (1032160) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973294)

At least in one case, the brakes failed, the accelerator stuck, and the person didn't know how to turn the car off because it was a rental and used a push-button ignition.

What I can't figure out is why they didn't have a proper fail-safe. Electronics do fail - on my previous car (before the drive-by-wire system) the throttle position sensor had long failed before I got it. You'd think that having a safety on the brake (for example, if the engine revs out of control and the driver steps on the brake, the ECU forces the engine to its idle position.)

Considering that it's very possible to have a sensor failure in its allowable signal limits, that type of safety should be built in!

Re:Safety Critical (1)

iamhassi (659463) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973482)

"People really should learn about the car before they drive it, but this is a monumental fuck-up on the part of Toyota."

But the emergency brake is still by cable [howstuffworks.com] and emergency brakes are required by lawn in some areas [wikipedia.org] so they are installed on all vehicles. Why the driver did not pull the ebrake when a passenger had over a minute to call 911 is beyond me, I'm guessing he thought he could regain control over the vehicle so this is still driver error.

Re:Safety Critical (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973632)

But the emergency brake is still by cable and emergency brakes are required by lawn in some areas so they are installed on all vehicles. Why the driver did not pull the ebrake when a passenger had over a minute to call 911 is beyond me, I'm guessing he thought he could regain control over the vehicle so this is still driver error.

I doubt most emergency brakes can overpower a car's engine. They're only on two wheels, there's no vacuum assist and the mechanical advantage is awful. Besides, since they're typically on the rear wheels, you'd likely spin even if you could apply enough force.

Still, if the throttle was sticking, the obvious thing to do is to get your foot under it and push up. That's what I've done when it happened (was the floor mat in my case, and not a Toyota)

Re:Safety Critical (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973774)

The ebrake won't stop a vehicle or even slow it down particually well. It just a mechinical rear brake, which dosent do much braking anyway.

I had stop my truck (f250) with the ebrake when I broke a brake line once. It skid and skid with the trans in neutral and finally stopped. A running motor could have overpowered it without much effort.

Re:Safety Critical (0, Flamebait)

pydev (1683904) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973520)

At least in one case, the brakes failed, the accelerator stuck, and the person didn't know how to turn the car off because it was a rental and used a push-button ignition

Accelerators frequently get stuck no matter what the technology and you need to know what to do in that case before you get behind the wheel. If you don't know how to turn off the car, you are responsible for the consequences, not the car company.

Also, they couldn't put it into neutral because it had a push-button shifter as well.

So? Why couldn't they put it in neutral with a push-button shifter?

but this is a monumental fuck-up on the part of Toyota. I think that we can do the push-button stuff CORRECTLY, but this isn't the way to do it.

No, it's not. You are responsible for the car you choose, not Toyota. That guy chose a 250hp car with a complicated user interface and he killed himself and other people. He was the guilty party, not Toyota.

When I bought a car, I looked for one with traditional mechanical controls because I find them easier to use. But I don't want a world in which every single design decision is prescribed by the government or case law.

Re:Safety Critical (3, Insightful)

statusbar (314703) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973608)

You said:

So? Why couldn't they put it in neutral with a push-button shifter?

I think he was saying that the push buttons stopped working because the computer system crashed.

If that was the case, the only thing the driver could have done different would be to pull the emergency brake.

There are lots of formal safety and reliability requirements and testing required for fly-by-wire systems in airplanes and helicopters.
What formal safety and reliability requirements and testing are required for drive-by-wire systems in cars?

--jeffk++

Defect scandal at Toyota grows -- without bound (5, Informative)

reporter (666905) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973564)

The latest defect in Toyota cars is quickly developing into the scandal of the 21st century. The problem started when customers of Toyota vehicles began experiencing sudden unexplained acceleration; these incidents began appearing in 2002. Over time, Toyota management claimed that the problem is the floor mat. So, the management issued a recall to replace all the floor mats.

Then, after further studying the problem, the management claimed that the throttle's pedal sometimes becomes stuck due to weather conditions. This new claim lead to the massive global recall of many vehicles sold over the past 3 years.

However, none of these explanations for the sudden acceleration has been satisfactory. Independent investigations leading to an explosion of lawsuits have determined that the problem is the electronic throttle control (ETC) — the so-called drive-by-wire mechanism that links the pedal via some cables to the fuel controller. According to a report [businessweek.com] by "Businessweek" and another report [wsj.com] by the "Wall Street Journal", Toyota is now the defendant in 3 separate class-action lawsuits. The plaintiffs claim that the ETC is defective.

According to a report [nytimes.com] by the "New York Times" (NYT), "a few years ago, the company sent out a technical bulletin saying some cars accelerate on their own between 38 and 42 mph, and it reprogrammed the electronics with new software codes".

The NYT notes, "John Heywood, director of the Sloan Automotive Lab at MIT, said because Toyota is the only automaker having this problem, it could be something specific to its design, such as the location and integration of the electronics relay sensor."

Further, the Toyota ETC lacks an important safety mechanism: if the customer presses both the throttle pedal and the brake pedal, then the ETC should give priority to the brake. The Toyota ETC gives priority to the throttle. How can Toyota engineers commit such a gross design mistake? Common sense tells us that the brake should receive priority.

Re: Defect scandal at Toyota grows -- without boun (1)

statusbar (314703) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973662)

Thank you for the fantastic information.

I used to have a 2005 Toyota Matrix and did experience unintended acceleration ONCE. At the time just thought it was the mat sticking.

I could not imagine that the system would give priority to the gas pedal over the brake!!!! OMG

--jeffk++

Re:Safety Critical (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973624)

Also, they couldn't put it into neutral because it had a push-button shifter as well.

How is a push-button shifter any different than an automatic with a stick shift? In both cases, it's just switches; there's no mechanical linkage (stick-shift automatics do have a mechanical linkage to the parking brake, I believe, not to be confused with the hand brake which has a separate lever farther towards the back of the car).

I design computer hardware and software... (3, Insightful)

statusbar (314703) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973210)

I design computer hardware and software and I always tell people:

DON'T TRUST COMPUTERS

But No On Believes Me...

--jeffk++

Re:I design computer hardware and software... (2, Funny)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973336)

That's because I already told them not to trust humans.

Re:I design computer hardware and software... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973544)

Well, maybe we could just simplify the rule to:
Don't trust!

Re:I design computer hardware and software... (3, Insightful)

jernejk (984031) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973584)

Yeah, that's why I'm always a bit nervous when flying with airbus.

Toyota Gas Pedal Fix Clears Regulators (2, Interesting)

reporter (666905) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973602)

According to a report [wsj.com] just issued by the "Wall Street Journal", the engineers at Toyota have developed an improved pedal that supposedly fixes the problem causing Toyota cars to accelerate out of control. American regulators have approved the fix, and Toyota will send it to dealers by February 8. This fix allows the dealers to resume selling the 8 models of vehicles affected by the recall.

However, a new angle to the problem recently surfaced, according to a report [nytimes.com] just issued by the "New York Times" on its blog. CTS, which manufactures the throttle pedal for Toyota, claims that "the slow-return pedal phenomenon, which may occur in extreme environmental conditions, should absolutely not be linked with any sudden, unintended acceleration incidents". In other words, though the pedal is defective, the defect did not cause the unintended acceleration. CTS claims that it did not manufacture the pedals in older Toyota vehicles that exhibited the same acceleration problem.

If CTS is telling the truth, then the actual problem may be the electronic throttle control, the so-called drive-by-wire system.

Re:I design computer hardware and software... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30973748)

Remind me not to hire you.

Stupid summary, stupid story (5, Informative)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973224)

Summary is stupid because there's no hoses and hydraulics in any car throttle system I've seen; if it's not electronic, it's a very simple and reliable steel cable.

Story is stupid because as it admits, the electronics had nothing to do with the problem; the failure was mechanical. The exact same thing could have happened to a cable-operated system.

Re:Stupid summary, stupid story (1)

RattFink (93631) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973308)

What is worse he questions why there wasn't a break override, something that would pretty much require an electronic system of some sort.

Re:Stupid summary, stupid story (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973442)

like say a hand brake?

Re:Stupid summary, stupid story (1)

newdsfornerds (899401) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973364)

"There is no hose" OR "there are no hoses," would be correct. Also your first sentence should really be two. Cheers, Your friendly neighborhood usage nerd.

Re:Stupid summary, stupid story (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973726)

"There is no hose" OR "there are no hoses," would be correct. Also your first sentence should really be two. Cheers, Your friendly neighborhood usage nerd.

Upon further review, my original sentence stands. The use of the semicolon is standard. The use of the singular "There's" with the plural "hoses and hydraulics" is not, but the idea I'm trying to get across is that I'm denying the singular concept of a hydraulic throttle system, while using the plural words "hoses and hydraulics" to maintain parallelism. It wouldn't work with "There is", but the contraction maintains euphony despite the formal disagreement in number.

Re:Stupid summary, stupid story (2, Insightful)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973378)

Most throttles are a simple cable system (or, at least, they used to be). Such a system doesn't break often and, when it does break, seems to be a gradual thing. I don't personally see much of a need to change things from such a simple mechanism: it works, and rarely breaks. Added complexity introduces many additional failure points. The failure being solely mechanical still likely points to either a drastic re-engineering to account for the electronics, or an electronics-induced mechanical failure. Cable throttles are not exactly "new" science.

A throttle really needs to be designed with safety in mind: IE, under-working not over-working. In other words, the car doesn't "go", never mind not accelerating.

The summary is referring to breaking systems when mentioning hoses and hydraulics. It's already a complex system, but should not be in any way associated with the throttle: breaks should still work when the throttle is broken.

Really, there's little excuse except poor engineering on the part of the Toyota failures. I don't think it speaks one way or the other, for or against, EVs/electronics in vehicles. There are other, bigger issues surrounding EVs/electronics which aren't even really related. The fact that the Toyotas were 'advanced' vehicles is simply coincidence.

Re:Stupid summary, stupid story (1)

Burdell (228580) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973480)

I've never seen a throttle cable break gradually; cables usually break suddenly. I've had a throttle cable and a clutch cable break, and neither was "a gradual thing". It was more like I stepped on the pedal and heard a "ping" as the metal broke (the clutch cable broke on the pedal end, so I then heard bits of metal rattling around on the floor).

Re:Stupid summary, stupid story (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973494)

probably because the push to get more efficient engines have lead to computerized direct injection systems, that can vary the exact mixture, while at the same time take orders from the pedal about the overall throttle level.

Re:Stupid summary, stupid story (1)

winwar (114053) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973616)

"A throttle really needs to be designed with safety in mind: IE, under-working not over-working. In other words, the car doesn't "go", never mind not accelerating."

To be fair, a mechanical cable fault can cause a wide open throttle condition (frayed cable). I have been in such a car.

It appears that Toyota has the worst of both worlds without using the benefits of a computer. They have a mechanical fault in a drive by wire system without an electronic override (safety feature). As you said, so much for superior engineering.

Re:Stupid summary, stupid story (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973516)

No, you are stupid in failing to see big picture. Hoses and hydraulics had many things to do with overall power delivery to wheels of traditional systems. Ever heard of vacuum advance? transmission modulator? Those any many other "hose and hydraulic" functions are now done by computer.

Re:Stupid summary, stupid story (1)

pydev (1683904) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973554)

it's a very simple and reliable steel cable.

Actually, mechanical accelerators do get stuck fairly frequently, and as a driver, you need to know what to do.

If your car is so complicated that you can't figure it out, get a simpler car. You are responsible, not Toyota.

Re:Stupid summary, stupid story (2, Interesting)

iggymanz (596061) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973610)

victims report out of control acceleration where even pressing the brake harder merely mades engine ECM increase engine power, and can't merely move selector to neutral either (have to press brake in their stupid design). Problem is clearly circuitry or software failure, nothing to do with their bullshit gas pedal or floor mat nonsense. And gas pedal now only controls air intake, the computer controls fuel, not your daddy's cable pulled throttle.

Misleading story... (5, Informative)

CyberBill (526285) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973226)

By all accounts I can find, the issue with the Toyota's sticky gas pedal is a MECHANICAL one - not some electrical bug.

Re:Misleading story... (2, Insightful)

arb phd slp (1144717) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973366)

Just because that's what Toyota is focusing on, doesn't mean that's what's actually wrong. They were all about floor mats previously.

Re:Misleading story... (2, Insightful)

FonzCam (841867) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973536)

The issue isn't the sticky pedal it's what you can do about stopping a car once it sticks. In a traditional mechanical car you can simply put the car in neutral, pull over and stop. If for some reason you can't get it into neutral then you could still turn off the car by turning the ignition key to off. With a keyless ignition and all electronic gearbox you rely the designers of your drive-by-wire system to have foreseen this type of situation and have included an appropriate failsafe in their system.

In the case of the runaway Toyota pressing the ignition to turn the car off does nothing (to stop you accidentally turning the car off) and the gear selector wouldn't select neutral (presumably because the accelerator was on full) the correct thing to do is hold down the start button for 3 seconds and that shuts down the engine.

With mechanical systems you can simply disconnect them and they stop working, with electronic systems you need to know a shutdown procedure and these procedurers are currently specific to each model of car.

Drive By Wire not really the problem (5, Informative)

Fahrvergnuugen (700293) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973228)

According to AutoBlog [autoblog.com] , the problem with these Toyotas is a mechanical part in the drive by wire pedal assembly (and so it's not really an issue with the car being drive by wire). The pivot point that the pedal rotates on has a bushing that is apparently wearing out and causing the pedal stick. I'm a little skeptical as it seems much more plausible that it would be an electrical (or software) gremlin, but that's apparently what they're blaming it on.

There is still no excuse for Toyota not coding the ECU to cut throttle when it senses that the driver has BOTH the throttle and the brakes on simultaneously. All drive by wire VW/Audis are setup this way.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (2, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973360)

There is still no excuse for Toyota not coding the ECU to cut throttle when it senses that the driver has BOTH the throttle and the brakes on simultaneously. All drive by wire VW/Audis are setup this way.

So you have never 'power braked' as a kid to impress the girls i take it.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973446)

All drive by wire VW/Audis are setup this way.

So you have never 'power braked' as a kid to impress the girls i take it.

No, the GP is correct, most drive-by-wire systems put a higher priority on the brake than accelerator. In a conflicting situation, the brake wins. There was an article about this in my local paper today. It even mentioned that the fail-safe puts a damper, so to speak, on "power braking".

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (3, Insightful)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973370)

There is still no excuse for Toyota not coding the ECU to cut throttle when it senses that the driver has BOTH the throttle and the brakes on simultaneously. All drive by wire VW/Audis are setup this way.

Plus this would solve the problem of the drivers that like to ride with their left foot on the brake pedal - accelerating with their brakes on, cruising with their brakes on, braking with their brakes on (but who can tell?).

Just need to solve hills where the driver may need throttle and brake simultaneously to start moving, and it should work.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973532)

a gyro that senses the cars angle, maybe?

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973688)

Just need to solve hills where the driver may need throttle and brake simultaneously to start moving, and it should work.

I've learned that for this you use the hand brake. If your car doesn't have automatic gear, it's the only way anyways, because your feet are already used for gas and clutch. Since for stopping you use the brake pedal, the simple solution would be to stop the throttle only for the brake pedal, not for the hand brake.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (5, Interesting)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973376)

Before that, they claimed it was the floormat, even though at least one credible incident report was for a car where the floormats were removed.

Now they claim the pedal sticks down in spite of the reports including cases where the car takes off while at highway speed or while stopped. A sticky pedal cannot explain sudden acceleration, only a failure to stop accelerating.

They seem to be dodging the issue of the car refusing to shift into neutral while at speed even though restoring that simple bit of functionality would greatly improve safety. The controller should really take the hint and digore the accelerator at that point.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (0, Troll)

Renraku (518261) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973410)

Toyota and Honda apparently don't test their software too well. They refuse to use conflict testing for some reason. That is, if multiple parts are giving impossibly different answers, such as engine full on brakes full on speed 80mph and not slowing down, the computer has to make a decision.

Of course, I heard this on Reddit so it could have been pulled out of someone's ass..

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (0, Troll)

iggymanz (596061) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973670)

I've heard it screamed from recordings on news of victims soon to die, that conflict not having resolution....but the thing they didn't try was cutting ignition.

And as to cutting ignition, can't believe the number of pussies (wimps not females) on forums I've seen whining that cutting ignition means you lose power assist for brakes and steering. so what, I've driven cars that had either failed with no problem, little more elbow grease or leg pushing, no big deal. Are most people such couch potato weaklings they can't drive or parallel park a car with broken power steering belt?

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30973418)

There is still no excuse for Toyota not coding the ECU to cut throttle when it senses that the driver has BOTH the throttle and the brakes on simultaneously. All drive by wire VW/Audis are setup this way.

You've never done any serious performance driving, have you? That's OK if you want to drive like a grandmother, but you may want to read up on the heel-and-toe technique [wikipedia.org] to find out why some of us would never settle for a car with the limitations you mentioned.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (1)

The_Wilschon (782534) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973604)

I sure as hell hope you aren't "performance driving" on any road I'm on. If you want to do this for sport on a private track, fine, but don't endanger the lives of those (non-consenting) around you just to get a thrill.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973744)

Well, usually cars are built for driving in normal traffic, not for racing. If you want a racing car, you should buy a racing car (and don't drive in the normal traffic with it).

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (1)

vanyel (28049) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973420)

Call me skeptical, but this has sounded like a software problem to me from the very beginning.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (2, Funny)

maxwells daemon (105725) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973426)

It was not an electrical gremlin by the way, it was the amc gremlin.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973530)

The AutoBlog article is lame. You have to watch a terrible video, shot with a hand-held camcorder. The first two minutes should be skipped; it's some idiot blithering, who then turns it over to an "expert" who shows the pedal unit. The pedal unit is hand-held, so you rarely get a really clear image of the thing.

The "expert" claims that a steel pin is binding in a brass bushing. He doesn't know why. There's no discussion of tolerances or lubrication problems, or why a function that critical didn't get a ball bearing. The pedal apparently moves a magnet near some sensor, but there's no discussion of what kind of sensor, whether there's any redundancy, or what happens if your steel-toed boots are magnetized.

"Car expert" - ha.

Incidentally, the argument against cutting the throttle when the brake is applied is that then people won't be able to do a jackrabbit start by running up the engine with the brakes on, and the 0-60 time will suffer. Really. There's talk of a software fix that will cut the throttle if the brakes are applied above 5MPH or so.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (2, Informative)

micheas (231635) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973582)

There is still no excuse for Toyota not coding the ECU to cut throttle when it senses that the driver has BOTH the throttle and the brakes on simultaneously.

Steps for starting a manual transmission car pointed up a steep grade:

  1. Press brake pedal Hard
  2. Release Parking Brake
  3. Depress Clutch
  4. Start Engine
  5. Depress throttle without releasing the brake (Heal on break, toes on throttle)
  6. Release Clutch and break smothly so the car does not roll backwards.

Do you see the problem with your solution?

The real world is messy.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (2, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973640)

Steps for starting a manual transmission car pointed up a steep grade:

These are not a manual transmission cars.

Re:Drive By Wire not really the problem (1)

DevonBorn (975502) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973722)

Personally, I've always used the hand brake (probably the parking brake you're refering to) to stop the car from rolling back during a hill start. There's no need to use the brake pedal for that.

lets just point out the uselessness of this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30973244)

1) If we switched to mechanical acceleration control, braking etc...that would be fine, but we would still use machines to make the parts.
2) mechanical parts fail if not as often, more often than computer based systems
3) a computer/firmware based error is usually fixable with ease, or relative ease - sometimes the same for both
4) mechanical failures can cause an entire system to go down and need to be replaced - same goes for electronic.

one way or another, shit happens.

GM uses electronic gas pedals without problems (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30973274)

GM uses electronic gas pedals for quite some time at least in its Delphi platform. For instance, Opel Vectra C and derivatives, Astra G/H and derivatives, ... Never any problems with them so far for several years. Automatic transmission from Aisin-Warner, a Toyota daughter company, on the other hand is causing many problems, at least in Germany. Whatever is going on in Toyota, it is not about quality.

What? (2, Insightful)

RockMFR (1022315) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973276)

Title: "Electronics parts = Toyota woes"
Article: "condensation from heaters caused increased friction in the gas pedal, making it stick in some cases, making the problem a mechanical one and not an issue of electronics."

So electronics had nothing to do with it at all. And their suggestion that the complexity of electronics made this issue harder to diagnose isn't backed up at all.

Doesn't matter if issue is electronic or mechanic (2, Insightful)

jo7hs2 (884069) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973290)

It doesn't matter to me if the issue is electronic or mechanical, I want a mechanical peddle pair and a mechanical key switch. I want to be able to kill the machine if I have to, and not rely on the electronics to behave appropriately when malfunctioning. How many press down to turn off power systems have you encountered that failed to turn off after a crash? I've certainly encountered my share of them.

Re:Doesn't matter if issue is electronic or mechan (1)

jo7hs2 (884069) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973304)

I mean a software crash... not a vehicular one. ;)

Growing pains don't mean you should stop growing (1)

copponex (13876) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973318)

First of all, the article says:

Toyota has said its latest problem happened because condensation from heaters caused increased friction in the gas pedal, making it stick in some cases, making the problem a mechanical one and not an issue of electronics

So, this is in all likelihood, a fluff piece about a mechanical issue that tries to scapegoat the lack of an electronic safety on the pedal. Which defeats the implied issues with malfunctioning electronics - it's the lack of more electronics that may be the problem.

Second, the old saying is that you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Truly, you can't improve technology unless you are willing to make mistakes. As long as companies aren't being reckless with the risks they are taking, and as long as we are trying to move forward instead of being terrified of the future, these mistakes are signs of progress, not failure.

Moving too fast (4, Interesting)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973326)

This is really a case of technology moving too fast for its own good.

The fundamental concept behind Japan's quality is kaizen. This is the constant improvement on existing techniques and technology. By starting with what works, it is simpler to build in very small steps without losing any quality along the way.

However, due to perceived pressures from non-Japanese automakers, companies like Toyota have begun bold initiatives to modernize their cars. The typical automotive embedded system is fairly simple (relatively speaking, of course). There are only a few inputs and only a few outputs and the systems are usually isolated from each other. However, as more features become desired, more interaction between isolated systems becomes a reality. The gas pedal used to only manage the amount of fuel fed to the injection valves. Nowadays it works in tandem with the brake system and suspension to manage tire slippage and traction control.

In this case, Toyota implemented a very complex system without a series of solid intermediate steps. The result is catastrophic failure when unforeseen interactions suddenly arise. If they were slowly adding features, they could immediately pinpoint the problematic interaction. However because they did it all at once they don't have any idea where the problem lies.

It makes me want to buy an American car.

Re:Moving too fast (1)

Idarubicin (579475) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973466)

This is really a case of technology moving too fast for its own good.

Well, no. The failure was apparently in a mechanical bushing that made the physical movement of the pedal sticky under certain conditions. This hasn't got anything to do with new technology, despite the incredibly poorly-written article summary.

The fundamental concept behind Japan's quality is kaizen. This is the constant improvement on existing techniques and technology. By starting with what works, it is simpler to build in very small steps without losing any quality along the way.

That sort of general statement or philosophy should be applied with caution - unless one wants to be the manufacturer of the world's finest, most reliable horse-drawn carriages.

Re:Moving too fast (2, Informative)

iggymanz (596061) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973734)

no, you're swallowing Toyota's bullshit explanation that does nothing to explain victims reports of hard out-of-control acceleration. Doesn't explain people who have actually wrestled the cars to dealships with engine redlined and brakes smoking, and turned them off and given key to dealer personnel so they could experience the demon-possessed-mechanical monster thrill themselves, some cars doing it right from being put into drive at standstill.

Re:Moving too fast (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973522)

It makes me want to buy an American car.

Buy an inexpensive one then. Many high-priced US cars are drive-by-wire as well. In addition to the things you mentioned (tire slippage and traction control), it also helps manage fuel economy and provide "auto brake" functionality.

Toyota Was Big Winner in Cash for Clunkers $ales (1)

theodp (442580) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973344)

Timing is everything - according to the NHTSA, Toyota sold 120,507 cars [cars.gov] in the Cash for Clunkers program, which ended in August. By comparison, Chrysler sold 9,033 cars.

Re:Toyota Was Big Winner in Cash for Clunkers $ale (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973474)

Never mind the 35,000 Dodge and Jeep vehicles sold.

(Of course, we then have to throw in the 10,000 Lexus and Scion vehicles on the other side)

Toyota Began Transition From Faulty Pedals in Aug. (1)

theodp (442580) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973556)

Bloomberg [bloomberg.com] : "We got the first reports about difficulties in August" from the U.S., Etienne Plas, a Brussels-based spokesman for the Japanese company [Toyota], said today by telephone. "The quality standard wasn't exactly met, but we didn't find that there was a safety risk, so we didn't start a recall."

As a Chrysler owner I don't understand (3, Interesting)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973384)

This kind of stuff is par for the course if you own a Chrysler. Last year my PT Cruiser decided to get stuck with the throttle about 1/3rd down. It was really fun to park that way (a terrifying sort of fun). Chryslers are famous for bursting into flames, having brakes fail for no reason (which is what the emergency brake is for), and numerous other problems that normal people would consider to be a safety hazard.

When my car got stuck, sure it was a little surprising at first, hard to slow down for the turn I already committed myself to (stood with my full weight on the brake) but after that I put it in neutral (it is an automatic, they have an N position) and when the motor started revving like crazy I just turned off my engine (careful to only click once so the steering wheel lock isn't activated), flipped on my hazard lights and coasted to a place where I could pull over conveniently.

What I don't understand is how I can figure this out, but a CHP officer kills his family in a 100mph crash from the same sort of problem? Yes, he got going that fast, without ever thinking about just turning the damn thing off. California's finest indeed, it's sad because the CHP are held up as experts in driving and safety.

If people aren't able to deduce what they are supposed to do in an emergency on their own in a timely matter, then we must make safety training mandatory for all drivers. It should go into what to do if your brakes don't work, accellerator gets stuck, car catches on fire, car rolls over and you're trapped, and the thousand other things that can happen to you in a car. And there should be a test, it should be a hard test, and you should get an insurance discount if you score over 90%. And you get the opportunity to retake it once a year, but your best score is good forever.

Re:As a Chrysler owner I don't understand (0, Offtopic)

misophist (465263) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973512)

>When my car got stuck, sure it was a little surprising at first, hard to slow down for the turn I already committed myself to (stood with my full weight on the brake) but after >that I put it in neutral (it is an automatic, they have an N position) and when the motor started revving like crazy I just turned off my engine (careful to only click once so >the steering wheel lock isn't activated), flipped on my hazard lights and coasted to a place where I could pull over conveniently.

>What I don't understand is how I can figure this out, but a CHP officer kills his family in a 100mph crash from the same sort of problem? Yes, he got going that fast, without >ever thinking about just turning the damn thing off. California's finest indeed, it's sad because the CHP are held up as experts in driving and safety.

That's just a part of the myth they maintain, that they're the experts in everything to do with cars and their operation. In reality the CHP is a bunch of state sanctioned thugs who try to maximize profit by handing out as many tickets as possible. It just goes to show that the CHP officer who crashed due to the stuck accelerator didn't have the critical thinking skills needed to get out of the situation.

Re:As a Chrysler owner I don't understand (4, Interesting)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973558)

What I don't understand is how I can figure this out, but a CHP officer kills his family in a 100mph crash from the same sort of problem? Yes, he got going that fast, without ever thinking about just turning the damn thing off.

Uh, these stupid push-button starter gadgets are designed to prevent you from accidentally turning them off because that would be 'dangerous'. In this case I believe you have to hold the button in for a few seconds to turn off the engine, and if you just got in the car and don't realise then you might well assume that the starter is broken too.

So as I understand it the problem was not just a hardware/software fault, but a hardware/software fault combined with user-unfriendly non-standard design which made the normal responses far more difficult than they should have been.

Re:As a Chrysler owner I don't understand (2, Insightful)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973612)

According to the sibling posts it's because his car didn't allow him to shift into neutral while at speed, which means if the brake doesn't override the suddenly stuck gas pedal and the push-button power switch doesn't want to turn off (just like my computer when it hangs...) he's fucked.

Re:As a Chrysler owner I don't understand (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973772)

so Toyota builds deathtraps?

What is the disadvantage of going into neutral at highway speeds? Obviously going into park at speed has been prohibited by automatic transmissions for as long as I can remember (you pretty much have to push on it until it breaks for it to let you do it).

missing option Manual Transmission (4, Interesting)

rossdee (243626) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973398)

Back in my day, cars had a 3rd pedal on the floor called the clutch. If your throttle got stuck you could hit the clutch pedal and cut the power to the transmission.

Re:missing option Manual Transmission (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#30973672)

It was also safer to choose phone numbers by rotating a wheel and remove diseases by attaching leeches.

Camry Hybrid & drive by wire (1, Offtopic)

linuxtelephony (141049) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973422)

I had to think long and hard before buying the Camry Hybrid because of all the drive-by-wire. Finally I decided to give it a go and I am glad I did. I get plenty of room in the cabin (not so much in the trunk though), and consistently get 30+ mpg around town and up to 40+ on highway trips (averaging 36-38 across West Texas at 80 mpg).

Some observations of mine:
- I have a "gear lever" to shift, but I'm pretty sure it's just there for "feel" and it's all electronic; if an electrical problem prevented the car from going into neutral then it wouldn't matter if it were "push button" or the gear lever like I have, it's still electronic.
- the emergency brake is mechanical - and that's your best bet if all else fails (assuming you aren't already going so fast as to make the car uncontrollable by locking the rear wheels
- It is not unusual for me to pull into a parking place, put the car into park, be totally stopped, release the brake, and (while totally still) push the button to turn off the car and have the car jump forward slightly; i suspect it has to do with getting a mechanical "break" in the transmission to engage and by slightly moving the car something akin to a tooth is able to engage the appropriate gear. I'm not able to reproduce on demand so I've not taken the car in for this.
- I have floor mats that are supposed to be held in place by hooks but the hooks keep coming out and floor mat moves all around. This is the factor carpeted floor, not the all season one, and i've never had it cause problems with the accelerator.
- i've not been able to reproduce the launching triggered by the cruise control as reported by SteveWoz [slashdot.org] , but that may be prius specific and/or speed related (i haven't been anywhere to try at 85 mph yet, speed limits around here stop at 75).

Re:Camry Hybrid & drive by wire (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973638)

if an electrical problem prevented the car from going into neutral
- the emergency brake is mechanical - and that's your best bet if all else fails

      turn. off. the engine...

      No not all the way so you lock the steering wheel (unless you're real fast), but a person that designs a car so as to keep the engine running when the key is turned/removed deserves to be shot. Turn off the engine. You will lose power braking, but I guarantee you won't accelerate to top speed but rather gradually coast to a stop.

Re:Camry Hybrid & drive by wire (1)

Quantumstate (1295210) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973706)

That mpg isn't much to be proud of by UK standards. We have a non hybrid ford focus diesel estate and got 68 mpg (UK) which is 57 mpg (US) going to Scotland (long distance trip). I think we average 55-60 (45-50 US) mpg during normal driving which involves a bit of dual carriageway and some town.

Reminds Me of the Air France Crash (1)

mwandaw (1276328) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973542)

I agree with others who have said that electronic controls have good potential. However, as the old saying goes, nothing good comes easy. This Toyota scandal (sadly) reminds me of the much more horrible Air France crash of a fly-by-wire Air Bus jet into the Atlantic Ocean enroute from Brazil to France. Be careful out there!

Mechanical versus Electronic isn't the issue (1)

engineer23 (1734290) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973552)

I agree on the idea that it doesn't matter if the system is electronic or mechanical. Each type has positives and negatives. What matters the most is whether the system is properly designed with a safety system. Lots of automobiles have problems that occur on a regular basis. It is the ones that make people kill each other that make the headline news.

Is handbrake still hydraulic? (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973634)

Reading this article makes me wonder if at least the hand brake is still a mechanical component? I would hate for the electronics to fail and suddenly find myself with no way to stop the car. I wonder how much consideration has been given to fail-safes in this move to more electronics for essential control of the vehicle, especially in cases of poor maintenance?

The way this ought to work (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973720)

The way this ought to work is that there should be two different sensors in the pedal, and they should be of different types, like one resistive pot and one Hall-effect transducer.

Then, the vehicle electronics should have both a software implementation that checks the two for consistency and monitors engine RPM, and a hardware backup which inhibits fuel flow and spark if either sensor indicates a released gas pedal and engine RPM is above idle and not dropping. (Engine RPM comes from the crankshaft position sensor, and if that fails, spark timing will fail and the engine won't run. So crankshaft position sensor failure isn't an engine runaway risk.) There's some cost to the hardware backup, but it's fewer parts than one window actuator.

Then the software should have a backup function such that if either the brake pedal or the handbrake is active, and speed is above 5MPH, the throttle is treated as being at the released position. That's a no-cost feature.

I knew the people who designed the Ford EEC IV in the 1980s, and they thought like that. They were terrified of a software problem that affected safety. In the EEC IV, the program was masked directly into the CPU chip's ROM, and cannot be changed. (There's a bolted-on ROM unit that has the data tables for each engine model, and you can replace that, but there's no code in it.) It never needed to be; cars with the EEC IV are still running, and there was never a recall for a "firmware update".

sudden acceleration (1)

thirdbrother3 (1360731) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973750)

"Toyota struggled to find the cause for sudden acceleration" - not surprised, I've never manage to find it in a Toyota either!

Imaging having to "flash" upgrade your car! (1)

ALeader71 (687693) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973752)

Does this mean we'll have service packs for future autos?

Imagine the horror if Microsoft ports Windows to ECMs - Care to hack a car?

KISS (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973758)

Keep it simple, stupid.

This is a good rule to follow when it comes to designing machines that can kill.

I want my car's safety-related electronics to be so simple anyone with the relevant expertise can understand a given subsystem, and anyone with the relevant expertise can understand how they interact with each other. In other words, I want predictable behavior: Given scenario A, the car will behave in manner A', given scenario B, it will behave in manner B', with any outcomes that aren't expected by most drivers, such as an engine shutdown if the temperature sensor reaches X degrees for Y seconds, well-documented and the driver educated how to react in such a circumstance.

So (1)

AnAdventurer (1548515) | more than 3 years ago | (#30973778)

Are we going to blame Microsoft for causing cars to crash (finally) because of their crappy software?
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