Toyota’s Electronics May be Prone to Cosmic Ray Disturbances

March 16, 2010

(ChattahBox)— Despite recalls and fixes of Toyota’s floor mats and gas pedals, reports of sudden acceleration continue. And some researchers are looking into the possibility that the Japanese company’s electronics, especially its electronic throttle controls are more susceptible than other automakers to disturbances from cosmic rays.

Momentary electronic disturbances from radiation particles created when cosmic space rays pummel the atmosphere, are a common occurrence. And it’s been known since the 70s that radiation particles can affect electronic controls in airplanes and rocket ships. For that reason, engineers design electronics in aircraft to shield circuits from radiation particles.

The disturbances are referred to, as “single event upsets,” or SEUs and they come and go without leaving a trace. Federal regulators first were prompted to investigate this phenomenon, with respect to Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems, after an anonymous tipster sent an email warning that Toyota’s electronics did not contain safeguards to prevent single event upsets

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, “An anonymous tipster whose complaint prompted regulators to look at the issue said the design of Toyota’s microprocessors, memory chips and software could make them more vulnerable than those of other automakers.” […] “And an anonymous tipster told NHTSA last month that “the automotive industry has yet to truly anticipate SEUs.”

Toyota claims its electronics are properly designed to withstand interference from radiation particles, telling the Free Press its electronic engine controls are “robust against this type of interference.” Toyota’s electronics are designed with “absolute reliability,” added the automaker.

Still, researchers and regulators are looking into the possibility that Toyota’s electronics may not be as “robust” as the beleaguered automaker claims.

See the Detroit Free Press for more.


5 Responses to “Toyota’s Electronics May be Prone to Cosmic Ray Disturbances”

  1. jonah on March 16th, 2010 12:08 pm

    maybe toyota needs to look into some small radiation shields

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  5. shakti on April 12th, 2010 5:41 am

    The possibility was brought to light by a “concerned scientist” who sent an email to the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA). The message, which is published in full on Jalopnik, reads: “For reasons I am unable to disclose, I am anonymously submitting several publically available scientific papers that discuss the possibility of cosmic rays disrupting electronics at sea level, essentially flipping a bit from one to zero, or vice versa.

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