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Old 15th February 2012, 17:19   #1
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Default When car electronics go wrong

Came across this interesting news article that talks about the consequences of failure of car electronics in high end cars.

Scary really. Is it possible to rate a car's electronics for potential to fail, somewhat like the safety ratings?

This article gives the example of a Porsche Panamera whose electronics went kaput in the middle of the road and the passengers were stuck inside unable to open the doors until someone smashed a window from outside. Even the tow trucks were unable to tow the car for almost 90 minutes due to stuck electronic handbrakes and locked steering. Apparently Porsche is now looking at a world wide bug fix.

Electronic failure in car | Porsche Panamera electric fail
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Old 15th February 2012, 17:23   #2
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Default Re: When car electronics go wrong

Even if you rated the electronics of a particular vehicle model as highly reliable, they could still fail in an instant. Electronics, unlike mechanicals which give out warning signals, don't give you any warning. They just fail.
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Old 15th February 2012, 17:54   #3
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Default Re: When car electronics go wrong

Like the trunk opener, they should provide some manual means of opening the doors. And for the driver's door it should be like the bonnet release lever accessible easily.
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Old 15th February 2012, 19:46   #4
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Default Re: When car electronics go wrong

This is not the first time that this has happened in high end cars. When BMW first introduced the iDrive in its Bangle inspired 7, there were several reports of people getting stranded in the middle of nowhere !! And this has happened on those long deserted highways in the US too !! Of course, they got around that problem and things are a lot better now and there was feedback that the system hung on account of user related issues too (not handling the system properly - not an excuse really)

Since most of these are software related issues more than a hardware related one, the only real solution seems to be to test the system comprehensively before release.

Heard of Monkey Testing ?
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Old 15th February 2012, 19:57   #5
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Default Re: When car electronics go wrong

Use of software everywhere gives me scares some times, with the kind of software developed (consistent BSoD or Kernel Panic on most Operating Systems) things are bound to fail sometime or the other. Even a highly tested, finds some failures some or the other as one can never test everything end-to-end all the time.

Every time i sit in an aircraft i get jitters, cars still feel much safer as they are on the ground, but the incident in Pune makes me think even cars are the same.

Whats the solution, surely manual overrides are one way to ensure things are in human hands, when situation demands it.
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Old 16th February 2012, 11:51   #6
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Default Re: When car electronics go wrong

I doubt if we shall be seeing more cars with purely mechanical systems, for various reasons. For e.g. in order to pass some target of fuel efficiency or emissions, the driver may not be able to get full control of the throttle. This is where the drive by wire technology helps the manufacturer ensure that the acceleration happens in tune with the required FE figures and the driver does not get too much control. The result is no matter how hard you press the accelerator, the acceleration will still be uniform and smooth, not necessarily a rubber-burning or pushed-back-in-the-seat experience.

There are technologies which will spot obstacles on the roads, or the distance between your car and the car you are following and adjust the vehicle speed or even brake accordingly. These are meant to make the vehicles safer and will be very hard to get rid of.
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Old 16th February 2012, 12:02   #7
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Default Re: When car electronics go wrong

Quote:
Originally Posted by mayankjha1806 View Post
... (consistent BSoD or Kernel Panic on most Operating Systems) things are bound to fail sometime or the other ...
Fortunately, where it really matters, such 'Operating Systems' are never used - and IT principles are not allowed to venture there! What is used is minimalistic and non-blocking: something that ensures -
* cooperation and coordination between processes (to obviate deadlock), and
* input values are validated before they are used (sensor & calculated value redundancy, as in aircraft control systems)

It is easy to blame electronics and software for the 'errors', never 'insufficient design effort' or 'not sufficiently thought through'. Hubris does have its failings - and most errors result due to the classic assumption: "Cannot happen"!

Quote:
Originally Posted by mayankjha1806 View Post
... one can never test everything end-to-end all the time. ...
Those systems ARE tested end to end multiple times, starting with testing on the drawing board. However, the statistics statement "Errors tending to 0" is what governs testing, not "Errors = 0". There is a point after which no more errors are detected by testing / testers (detectable errors), beyond which it is usually a couple of users in a million who go through the surprises. This can be made to lead to paranoia, but usually 'faith' is what keeps everyone living their lives normally.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mayankjha1806 View Post
... Whats the solution, surely manual overrides are one way to ensure things are in human hands, when situation demands it.
Correct.

Some systems, like central locking, are electronics add-ons to a mechanical system (the conventional mechanical linkage). In such systems, on 'electronics/software failure' there is already an 'override' - the mechanical lever with which a person in the car can open the door. From outside, a person with a key can open it. Inference: don't obviate the mechanical key. After a series of car-jackings in the US where victims were dumped in the boot, all manufacturers added a 'pull' to over-ride the (electronic) boot lock/opener.

For systems that replace something mechanical with electro-mechanical-with-electronic-control, manual override may or may not be possible. Though only a ridiculous extreme example, imagine having an electronic injection control with ye olde mechanical injection control as a backup, just so that electronic failure not inconvenience the user. But surely, wherever possible, designers could and should implement manual overrides, even if it requires opening a cover and then pulling a cord or pushing a lever.

Last edited by DerAlte : 16th February 2012 at 12:03.
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Old 18th February 2012, 13:57   #8
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Default Re: When car electronics go wrong

On my Alto K10, Maruti has kept its age old "Lock'Unlock" stub on the window. Even without a battery you can lock and unlock the car. This "Stub" is missing in most modern cars and locks are operated purely by electrical means.

What is required is a robust mechanical lock using a mechanically operated lever, with an electric assist. Doing away with user accessible mechanical lever is a recipe for disaster.

Inspite of a lot of cases where the passengers are trapped with the car locked (accidents, rain, flat battery etc), manufacturers have yet to address the issue of user accessible unlocking using purely mechanical means.

I remember that a particular car model could not be unlocked if the battery went flat where by an acquaintance of mine was locked out of his car and had to get the car towed to the service centre.
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Old 18th February 2012, 14:21   #9
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Default Re: When car electronics go wrong

Most cars have mechanical override for door locks in case the electronic locking system fails. In case of Skoda/VW cars pulling the inside lever twice unlocks the car(unless it's secure locked by remote by pressing the lock key once, pressing the lock key twice ensures the car can be locked from inside too), in case of autolock too the manual override works.

Similarly there is a AT gearbox disengaging system below the central trim near the shifter, which can be helpful when towing a car with breakdown or pushing a non-functional car out of traffic.

Every car has such hidden systems. Reading your car's manual may save your life someday, please take some time to read it, it is the first thing i do when i buy a new car.
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Old 18th February 2012, 18:48   #10
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Default Re: When car electronics go wrong

Most of the cars have the lock/unlock mechanism mechanical connected. There is a actuator which also acts to lock/unlock the doors in case of central locking, but they are always mechanically connected. Does the high end cars really have that electronically controlled and no mechanical linkage between lock and lever ? then i think its pretty stupid design.
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