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Toyota's problem was unforeseeable, say experts

As systems grow in complexity, experts say designing for failure may be the best course of action for managing it

By Bill Roebuck

Toyota vehicles have been recalled in recent weeks because of sticking gas pedals, and as of the first week of February 2010, production on several models has been halted in North America. The recalls include the Toyota RAV4, Corolla, Matrix, Avalon, Tundra, Sequoia, some Camrys, and non-hybrid Highlanders.

Toyota's sticking gas pedal was an almost-unforeseeable problem, experts say, and the best course of action now is for engineers to ensure that drivers can handle the failure if it happens again. So writes Charles J. Murray, senior technical editor, electronics, forDesign News magazine.

Automotive experts told Murray that predicting the problem would have been nearly impossible during design and test, especially given the kind of accelerated testing that is typically used to evaluate components, which may have to last from 10 to 15 years. Making it even more difficult was the fact that the gas pedals didn't appear to fail by themselves, but rather, by interaction with other components, such as heaters or floor mats, Murray wrote.

He added that the key to empowering drivers lies in software, according to the experts he interviewed.

Toyota's throttle-by-wire systems, already in place on most or all of the affected vehicles, will soon contain additional software commands that will interrupt the flow of gasoline to the engine if a driver hits the brake pedal.

The experts don't blame Toyota engineers for not being able to foresee this problem during the design and test stages, agreeing that no test can catch everything. Read the full story here.

Posted February 3, 2010.

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