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The Almighty Buck Transportation

$1M Prize For Finding Cause of Unintended Acceleration 690

phantomfive writes "Edmunds Auto has announced that it will be offering a $1 million prize to anyone who can find the cause of unintended acceleration. As Wikipedia notes, this is a problem that has plagued not only Toyota, but also Audi and other manufacturers. Consumer Reports has some suggestions all automakers can implement to solve this problem, including requiring brakes to be strong enough to stop the car even when the accelerator is floored."
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$1M Prize For Finding Cause of Unintended Acceleration

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:29AM (#31341590)

    Make the reward information on something related to Portal or Half-Life. Seriously, the guys on Valve's forums will quickly solve any puzzle thrown at them if there's the slightest prospect it'll lead to information on a new game.

  • by Ztream ( 584474 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:30AM (#31341594)

    ... but unfortunately I'm speeding to my death as I type.

  • "The" cause (Score:2, Insightful)

    Okay, I'll save them a million right here. "The" cause is that humans make mistakes. Cars are designed, assembled, and operated by humans.

    • Re:"The" cause (Score:5, Insightful)

      by digitalchinky ( 650880 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:44AM (#31341726)

      Not only that but some vehicle designers are, quite literally, stupid. Really, why on earth would you directly link a braking systems boost mechanics to the f'ing accelerator. The more you accelerate, the less braking potential you have if you start stomping down to get the vehicle stopped in a hurry.

      If I can stop my ZX-10 (motorbike) under (metric shit tons of) power with my pinky finger, how hard is it to sort this crap out in a car? A million dollars? This is not a contest, it's peoples lives. Just build the brakes completely independent from all other systems and the job is done.

  • Here it is: Jam the front and rear axles! and if that doesn't work, eject the axles so the car slides with all it's underframe on the road for a while...
    • by c-reus ( 852386 )

      Would you like to drive next to (or behind) a car that is able to eject it's axles at, say, 60 MPH? Sounds like a suicide to me

  • Unnecessarily (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hellop2 ( 1271166 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:34AM (#31341632)
    complicated cars.
  • Hmmm.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:36AM (#31341660)

    How about some sort of a mechanical linkage between the throttle body and the pedal....oh wait...where have I seen this before?

    How the idea of "drive by wire" became popular is beyond me. There are some things that need to remain simple, and in human control. Steering, braking, throttle, and gear selection should never be done fully by electronics and remain in the drivers hands...along with the ability to kill power to the engine for that matter.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by u38cg ( 607297 )
      Because the mechanical system fails just as often as the electronic? Sorry, try again.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NoMaster ( 142776 )

      How about some sort of a mechanical linkage between the throttle body and the pedal....oh wait...where have I seen this before?

      It still happens with a mechanical throttle though ... twice, to me.

      First time was when the clip holding the outer at the carbie fractured; the outer pushed forwards into the throttle arm and opened it all the way when I lifted my foot off the accelerator. The second was a worn and frayed inner; it jammed when I accelerated away from an intersection. Both happened on the same stretc

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Pentium100 ( 1240090 )

        First time was when the clip holding the outer at the carbie fractured; the outer pushed forwards into the throttle arm and opened it all the way when I lifted my foot off the accelerator. The second was a worn and frayed inner; it jammed when I accelerated away from an intersection. Both happened on the same stretch of road, oddly enough.

        And then you presumably shifted into neutral or low gear and/or stopped the engine and stopped the car. After opening the hood you saw a broken clip so you knew why it happened and what to do to fix your car.

        You can also inspect the parts to see if they are in good shape (I doubt that the clip broke suddenly and did not have any marks of a fracture before).

        The cars with the problem described in the article could not be stopped by turning off the engine (looks like the engine did not turn off) or stepping on

  • Solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Manip ( 656104 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:42AM (#31341696)

    We already have a solution - Cut the power when the break is pushed.

    What I struggle to understand is why this isn't a legal requirement on all new drive-by-wire cars?

    • > What I struggle to understand is why this isn't a legal requirement on all new drive-by-wire cars?

      You would think that there would also be a requirement that the source code be released for review to anyone who cares.

  • The last words coming out of the stereo were "Good night, asshole."

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Daisy, daisy...
  • Give us the source (Score:3, Informative)

    by invalid-access ( 1478529 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:51AM (#31341766)
    Never mind the million dollars, give us the source to all the drive-by-wire modules so we can find the race condition (literally!) for you.
  • Brakes! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:52AM (#31341770)

    "... including requiring brakes to be strong enough to stop the car even when the accelerator is floored."

    Yikes. Isn't that always the case, or are they really selling cars in the US with brakes that aren't able to do this? Just for the record, lack of this ability would basically mean that the car can accelerate faster than it can decelerate, and most cars accelerate pretty darn slow.

    If your brakes can't do this, get them the fsck fixed. They're broken.

    • err no. they are talking about brakes strong enough to hold the car in place if you have your feet planted on both the accelerator AND the brake at the same time. not just stopping the cars interia.
      • Uhhhh... I believe you fail at basic physics. If you can plonk both feet on the pedals and not accelerate, then the breaks can excerpt more force than the engine can (otherwise you'd be accelerating). Given that force equals mass times acceleration, breaks that can excerpt more force than your accelerator will obviously decelerate you faster than your accelerator will accelerate you.

      • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
        they are talking about brakes strong enough to hold the car in place if you have your feet planted on both the accelerator AND the brake at the same time.

        Yes. And I'm saying that any car that can't do this is not roadworthy and needs to see a mechanic immediately. Brake systems of basically any modern car are strong enough to do that if properly maintained. Sure, it'll possibly kill the engine and the transmission, but the car won't move.

  • by trenton ( 53581 ) <trentonl@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:54AM (#31341790) Homepage
    It's called neutral, and it's a feature of your transmission. It disconnects the engine from the wheels. Transmissions, both manual and automatic, are designed to easily select neutral, for emergencies like this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by twisteddk ( 201366 )

      Having BEEN in the situation myself, I can tell you that switching to neutral was the LAST thing I thought of. When you're sitting minding your own business at a red light and suddenly your car flares to life doing 60 mph in a couple of seconds, You're really much more focused on trying to stop the car, not the transfer of power from the engine through the transmission.

      On a sidenote: Cutting power to the engine is ALSO a bad idea, at least if you happen to have power steering. Or so I discovered.

      • by trenton ( 53581 )
        I've had this happen twice to me, too. The first time, I cut the ignition. The second, I used neutral. Clearly, we could have benefitted from additional training.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sockatume ( 732728 )

        This might explain why the issue has shown up more in the US than elsewhere. It countries where most drivers have a manual transmission (as in the UK), when you're stopped you've either got your foot on the clutch or the transmission in neutral, and when under power you can always disconnect the engine by stamping on the clutch.

  • Considering the cost of the recalls have had a couple of extra digits this sounds like a pretty cheap bounty.

  • AWESOME CONTEST!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Datamonstar ( 845886 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:57AM (#31341820)
    I'd love to take a shot at the prize money. Now, will Toyota kindly release the source code to their electronic throttle systems?

    What was that? No?

    Didn't think so.
    • by Fahrvergnuugen ( 700293 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @09:11AM (#31344144) Homepage

      I would be more interested in seeing the wiring diagram. My guess is that there is no redundancy in the throttle position system and it's not closed loop. There should be 4 throttle position switches, 2 in the gas pedal and 2 on the throttle body. The ECU should do a consistency check between the 2 signals coming from the pedal and a check between the 2 signals coming from the throttle body. If it detects two different signals coming from the pedal, or two different signals coming from the throttle body, it should go into limp mode.

      This is how all VAG (Volkswagen Audi Group) cars are designed.

      From what I have read, the Toyotas work on the honor system. The ECU trusts the signal coming from the pedal with no way of knowing if the signal was generated by a short circuit, interference, etc.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by varmittang ( 849469 )

        Like many onboard automobile sensors, they are also completely isolated from the vehicle ground. To reduce the potential for interference or mistakes, they operate at different voltages. The first sensor, known as ACCEL POS #1, has a nominal voltage range from 0.5 volts to 1.1 volts at idle and 2.5 volts to 4.5 volts at wide-open-throttle (WOT). The second sensor, ACCEL POS #2, delivers from 1.2 volts to 2.0 volts at idle and 3.4 volts to 5.0 volts at WOT. Why such a wide range of permissible voltages? The engine computer (ECM) recalibrates the sensor regularly, every time you start the car and the ECM goes through its power-on self-test.

        Both accelerator-pedal-position Hall-effect sensors have to agree fairly closely, or the ECM will go into its limp-home mode, which turns on the Check Engine light and sets a trouble code.

        There's more. If Toyota's engine-management scheme is anything like that of most other car companies, firmware inside the ECM also monitors the airflow into the engine, the throttle blade position and engine rpm, and calculates backwards to what the throttle pedal position should be. Any discrepancy, and a trouble code is set, the Check Engine light on the dash goes on, and you're dialing the service manager to make an appointment.

        Bottom line: The system is not only redundant, it's double-redundant. The signal lines from the pedal to the ECM are isolated. The voltages used in the system are DC voltages—any RF voltages introduced into the system, by, say, that microwave oven you have in the passenger seat, would be AC voltages, which the ECM's conditioned inputs would simply ignore. Neither your cellphone nor Johnny's PlayStation have the power to induce much confusion into the system.

        These throttle-by-wire systems are very difficult to confuse—they're designed to be robust, and any conceivable failure is engineered to command not an open throttle but an error message. []

  • Misleading summary (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Trecares ( 416205 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @03:57AM (#31341822)

    Almost all cars generate braking forces far in excess of whatever the engine is capable of putting out. Adequate brake torque isn't the problem here. If the brakes have to resist the the torque input, then their effectiveness will obviously be diminished.

    The proposal of having engine power being cut off when the brakes are applied seems to be sensible, however there are certain situations where you will need both the engine power and brakes on at the same time. Such as starting from a stop on a hill. So the solution isn't that simple. The easiest thing would be to either install an switch that trips past an certain amount of brake travel, or to sense the line pressure. They can use that data and determine how hard the operator is trying to brake, along with the vehicle's current state, is it stationary, or moving, and if so, how fast? They can use that to generate parameters to decide when and if to cut out engine power. At high brake pressures, and moving at high speeds, one would not be expect to continue to accelerate. At low to moderate pressures and being stationary or barely moving, engine power should not be cut off.

    Another thing they could do is install a sensor and determine if a foot is present on the accelerator or not, specifically in non-cruise conditions.

    Some people apparently had trouble shifting into neutral, but that should not happen at all. I don't know if it's an issue with the transmission trying to block that action, or if it was not able to mechanically disengage due to the engine accelerating. In either case, they should change the shifter from an mechanically controlled operation to an electronic one. Being controlled electronically also makes it easier to move the shifter. If the car is shifted into neutral, that's a fairly clear indicator that the ECM should override the pedal and drop to idle, and shift into neutral.

    I think it would help if there was a verbal and textual feedback system to aid the driver along with a command system.

    • by Malc ( 1751 )

      Also, if they increase the power of the brakes, then won't that have a knock-on affect on the tyres? Won't they have to increase their quality or find people are locking them up more frequently?

  • What's the appeal of these drive-by-wire cars?

    Automatic transmissions I can understand. I don't have one, but I can understand why some people do. But why are people making cars with as little mechanical linkage between the controls and the car as possible? It seems like it's often more expensive and dangerous. What do you get out of it?

    • Feather-light accelerator pedal (I personally hate it, but it might be something that someone wants).
        There might be other reasons, but I'm not very sure about them. Better in an accident maybe?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      If done correctly it is not more dangerous. mechanical cables and linkages fail too. What you get out of it is greater flexibility in the design and added control that lets the designer improve efficiency. for example it is generally better to ramp the throttle open rather than snap the butterfly open -- snapping it open causes a sudden loss of vacuum in the manifold which kills airflow for a fraction of a second. You'll get better fuel economy and the engine performance will be improved. Coming in th

  • I have a camry. Sometimes when I tap the accelerator after coasting or while stopped it unexpectedly accelerates harder than I expected despite pressing the pedal just a little bit, forcing me to take my foot off the pedal to avoid rear-ending the car in front of me. Thus, unintended acceleration. The cause is the neural network that "learns my driving style", which is what the car salesman told me was a feature of the car. Anyone who's worked with neural networks knows that sometimes, they aren't always ri
  • by T-Bucket ( 823202 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @04:08AM (#31341918) Homepage

    Don't know the cause, but to fix it, push down on that third pedal. It disconnects the engine from the wheels.

    You don't have one? Oh... Hmm... Evolution at work. Better luck next time!

  • Kill Switch? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Leo Sasquatch ( 977162 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @04:22AM (#31342026)
    Every motorcycle I've seen made in the last 30 years has had a kill switch on the handlebars. It just shuts down the bike's entire electrical system and stops the engine. It's intended as a safety feature if you're in a situation where you don't want to have to take your hands off the controls to reach the key. Also, as I understand it, if the bike's crashed, but the throttle's wedged on, all you have to do is hit the Big Red Switch, rather than trying to reach the key while the bike's hopping around because the rear wheel's making intermittent contact with the tarmac.

    Seriously - an Off switch within emergency reach of the driver - how complex a concept is that?

    OTOH, what are these cars doing with such massive embedded systems in them? I've seen numbers in the tens of millions of lines of computer code being bandied around as indicators of their size and complexity - WTF does a *car* need all that computing power for? I've driven dozens of cars without a single microchip in them - they started, they stopped, they did everything you'd reasonably expect a piece of personal transport to do. What does adding all that complexity get you, apart from a car only officially licenced and approved dealers can work on because nobody else has the diagnostic software...? Oh wait...

    Never mind.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by julesh ( 229690 )

      I've seen numbers in the tens of millions of lines of computer code being bandied around as indicators of their size and complexity - WTF does a *car* need all that computing power for?

      Having spoken to a friend who writes embedded automotive code for a living, it seems almost all of that is for diagnostic purposes. It's so that any idiot at a garage can plug in a machine that'll tell him precisely what's wrong with your car.

      I also think that's a severe overestimate. AIUI, most modern cars have either 2 or

    • Re:Kill Switch? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sucker_muts ( 776572 ) <> on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @05:20AM (#31342400) Homepage Journal
      Things like controls for the air conditioning, but more importantly: Electronic stability control []

      These things are really saving lives by not slamming into trees when your car would suddenly start spinning on a slippery surface, as it would when you did not have ESC installed.

      (Anti-lock braking [] is an older technology, which also needs computing power, but this thing is actually needed to achieve ESC. My car only has this ABS, since it's a fairly cheap model)

      I wouldn't be suprised if there are more very usefull things in a modern car that need that kind of computing power.
  • Two or three years ago, when the first two cases were reported (strange enough two cases with the same car type in two weeks, and then nothing for years), a representative of Daimler Benz claimed that on _all_ cars the brakes are about FOUR times stronger than the engine. Including a 400 horse power Mercedes. The only problem is that you have to stop to a stand still _immediately_ because over time the brakes heat up and become useless. So stopping if your car starts accelerating from 70 miles is no problem
  • Years ago when I was a young geek my dad was out in his boat and got chucked out when he hit a wave. The boat circled him for a while until he got a hand on the fuel hose and tugged it loose.

    So the boat went back to the home workshop and acquired a reed switch and a magnet on a short length of rope. The idea is that the ignition won't work unless the magnet is attached to the body of the outboard motor. The magnet is attached to you.

    So I think every power vehicle should have a convenient way fo switching it

  • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @04:29AM (#31342088) Homepage

    "This Corolla comes with Spontaneous Drag Race Mode standard, making it the most exciting car in its class!"

  • Here's a concept. If a drive-by-wire system must be installed, find an analog solution instead of having it controlled by software. Computers are great and all but they shouldn't have this level of control on something that can so easily cause mayhem. The technology might be there, but the quality control isn't.

    Ultimately this problem isn't that mysterious. Toyota made a mistake and tried to cover it up instead of admitting they had a serious flaw and taking the appropriate steps. It's all greed and individ

  • by jafo ( 11982 ) * on Wednesday March 03, 2010 @08:29AM (#31343758) Homepage
    I'm pretty sure that it's standard on all cars to have brakes that are more powerful than the engine. First of all, it's relatively easy, compared to adding horsepower. I've tried it in several cars including high and low power cars and have never had brakes that couldn't easily hold back the engine. 300 ft/lbs is a pretty powerful engine, but when spread between 4 wheels it's relatively little torque for even fairly modest brakes to handle.

    However, that's assuming they are operating properly... If they're defective, doesn't matter how powerful they were designed for... I used to have a 300ZX with rather beefy brakes, and when the master cylinder started leaking the brakes got rather weak. I probably would have had a hard time holding back the engine in the 5 miles or so I drove it after noticing it but before getting it fixed.

    Now, if the car computer can disable the foot and parking brakes, that's another matter entirely. Usually the parking brake is an entirely different system from the brake pedal, using a cable instead of hydraulics. Because there's no booster it can take significant effort to get a lot of braking force, but I'd expect you could overcome the engine with the parking brake unless there are mechanical issues, though some may find it difficult or impossible to apply enough force to a hand brake to overcome the engine, particularly if going down hill. So there still could be some cases, particularly with a computer in the mix, where strong brakes can't be operated effectively enough to overcome the engine.


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