The penguin's motorcycling and Jeep blog

Monday, March 8, 2010

Toyota is the new Philip-Morris

Philip-Morris, you might recall, is the cigarette company that for years insisted up and down that cigarettes were good to you... all the while knowing, within their labs, that they were addictive and caused cancer. They became the poster child for companies that care more about profits than about the health and safety of their customers, so hated that they had to change their name to "Altria" (I guess if you can't X it out, effin' A it out) to escape their reputation.

So why bring up Toyota and Philip-Morris in the same breath? Well... it's because of the testimony of David Gilbert, an automotive technology professor who demonstrates a fault condition that Toyota's electronic throttle control software doesn't detect. Note that Mr. Gilbert does not say -- or prove -- that this particular error condition is the cause of Toyota's problem. Rather, he shows that there is a condition that Toyota's throttle control should detect -- two shorted wires to the throttle position sensors, which are supposed to have different voltages on them because they go to different resistor packs -- which it does not, in fact, detect, and therefore there is at least one bug in Toyota's throttle control software. And software bugs are like cockroaches -- if you can see one wandering around on your kitchen counter in broad daylight, likely enough there's a thousand more in the wall behind the counter hidden from view.

Toyota can try to spin this all they want, but as someone who has an EE+software engineering background, I agree with Gilbert that this seems to indicate that Toyota's throttle control software is not as robust as they claimed and thus cannot be eliminated as a possible cause of the problem. So what's Toyota's response? A) say that Gilbert was paid by trial lawyers (true, but so what? The software problem doesn't go away just because of who Gilbert is paid by), and B), to hold a dog and pony show claiming that Gilbert's *SPECIFIC* bug is not the cause of the acceleration problem. Uhm, okay, but Gilbert himself did not say his bug was *THE* cause, just that it indicated a problem with the software.

All Toyota is accomplishing is making themselves look like the cigarette companies -- i.e., a bunch of lying bastards more concerned about the bottom line than about the health and safety of their customers. This points to a problem in the Japanese psyche that has been sort of shoveled under the covers since WWII -- the Japanese unwillingness to ever admit that they made a mistake or are not perfect. The Japanese refused to believe that their codes had been broken for years after Pearl Harbor, allowing the U.S. to know exactly what they were doing at all times, and even when things happened that should have just blatantly told them "our codes are broken" (like American carriers appearing off of Midway Island *just in time* to sink their own carriers) they refused to believe that any mere American could ever do such a thing to their "perfect" codes. I'm seeing the same mentality at work on the part of Toyota right now... and it ain't pretty, ain't pretty at all.

-- Badtux the Car Penguin


Terrant said...

I don't have an EE degree but I know enough to know when I am being fed bull dung. In Toyota's response when they kept harping on the situation not being possible in the real world makes me wonder what other flaws are there. Over the years, I learned one thing about writing software; if you don't expect the unexpected, it will eventually happen. Sounds like to me their engineers made some assumptions.

BadTux said...

You indeed get my point. I agree with Toyota that this particular issue isn't what caused the unintended acceleration. But it does show that the software in their accelerator control system has at least one major bug, and their insistence that this proves nothing makes them look either dishonest or delusional.

- Badtux the Engineer Penguin