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Submission + - Toyota: Engineering Process and the General Public (washingtonpost.com)

Doofus writes: The Washington Post has published in today's paper Why it's so hard for Toyota to find out what's wrong by Frank Ahrens on the Toyota situation and the difficulties of adequately conveying to Senators and Representatives — most of whom are non-technical — the debugging process. Ahrens interviews Giorgio Rizzoni, an "expert in failure analysis" at Ohio State, who describes the iterations of testing that NHTSA will likely inflict on the Toyota sample cars they have purchased, and then moves into the realm of software and systems verification:

He explained that each vehicle contains "layers of computer code that may be added from one model year to next" that control nearly every system, from acceleration to braking to stability. Rizzoni said this software is rigorously tested, but he added: "It is well-known in our community that there is no scientific, firm way of actually completely verifying and validating software."

Here's an example everyone is familiar with: You're working at your computer in Windows software and an error message pops up. It asks whether you want to report the error to Microsoft. Microsoft has exhaustively tested this version of Windows before its release, but it cannot completely predict how it will operate out in the world, subject to user demands. That's why it gathers error reports and uses them to fix the software on a rolling basis.

If you put a lot of parts together to form a complex electromechanical machine and make it talk to itself via software, it can behave, sometimes, in ways you cannot anticipate. It can fail for reasons you cannot anticipate.

Ahrens ends the piece with a quote from a 2009 LA Times interview with a psychologist:

"Richard Schmidt, a former UCLA psychology professor and now an auto industry consultant specializing in human motor skills, said the problem almost always lies with drivers who step on the wrong pedal.

'When the driver says they have their foot on the brake, they are just plain wrong,' Schmidt said. 'The human motor system is not perfect, and it doesn't always do what it is told.' "


Transportation

Submission + - Plugging in problematic for EV drivers (washingtonpost.com)

Doofus writes: The Washington Post has an interesting story this morning about the slow adoption rate expected for fully electric vehicles. The issues with recharging, both the time it takes to recharge and the availability of public recharging facilities when out on the road.

Additional concerns, like reduced range in colder weather, are also challenges to be overcome.

A number of early adopters, including several people leasing BMW's new MiniE, enjoy their cars, but bemoan the problems with charging. Two key numbers illustrate the problems of being an early adopter: 117,000 gas stations in the US, only 754 public recharging facilities.

Some people remain optimistic that the battery life and recharging issues will be resolved. On the other hand, we have been discussing battery advances as one of the key obstacles to mainstream EV adoption for the last 5-10 years. The reporter does point to one bright note on the infrastructure side: Nissan is planning to work to deploy about 7000 charging stations in five states.

Would by an electric vehicle, given your commuting/traveling habits? How many of us would take the risk of a longer-distance highway drive without knowing where the next rest stop is with an accessible outlet?

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