[EAS]Computers in Cars

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Sun Nov 16 23:27:02 EST 2003

Subject:   Computers in Cars

(from NewsScan Daily, 12 November 2003)

The computer systems in today's luxury cars are wonderful when they
work right, but not so wonderful when something goes wrong. Donald
Buffamanti of AutoSpies.com (self-described as "the ultimate insider
guide to the world's best automobiles") says of one automaker's
cars: "People have reported total electronic shutdowns to us
attributed to the network in the 7-series." One luxury car owner,
whose onboard computer gave monitoring information that sent him off
to the service station every few days to check his tire pressure,
complains: "Why does it have a computer that reads the problems if
they can't fix them?" Responding to complaints such as these, a BMW
executive says: "There is a not-uncommon shakedown period of one to
two years with technology this new," and a Honda executive admits:
"When you're adding complexity, you are adding risks." The BMW exec
adds: "The good news is that if it's working right after four years,
it will continue to work for a long time after that. Electronics
have a much longer life than mechanical parts."
(USA Today 11 Nov 2003)

Computers in cars are hardly a new topic to this list, with
<http://jove.eng.yale.edu/pipermail/eas-info/2003/000567.html> the
most recent item. But as someone who has spent quite a bit of time
designing automotive electronics, and more recently evaluating it in
legal contexts, the half-baked optimism of designers "filling up"
the car with electronics never ceases to amaze me. I suppose some
form of wireless networking of cars, e.g. for navigation and traffic
control, will soon allow the hackers to go to work in earnest. 

Favorite quotes from the USA Today article (about a BMW 7-series):

> ... the engine began sputtering and lurching until it died at the
> side of the road. The problem: The computers running the
> state-of-the-art electronics in his $80,000 car were full of bugs.
> The car owner, who can't be identified because BMW insisted he sign
> a confidentiality statement when it bought back his car, isn't
> alone. ...

> A dead battery can wipe out the trouble codes, making it impossible
> to perform state-ordered emissions testing on a car. The owner may
> have to drive the car for a few days to replenish the codes, then
> return for the test.


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