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  (Source: Warner Brothers)

Could cosmic rays be blame for unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles and crashes? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the possibility, which was raised by an industry tipster.  (Source:
Could outer space be endangering Toyota's drivers?

Whether individual reports of runaway Priuses are true or not, the sheer number of complaints and accidents would indicate that many vehicles in Toyota's lineup may have deep underlying issues. These issues are exacerbated by the fact that many American drivers are unaware of all the means at their disposal to stop their vehicles.

The feds are now examining a rather wild theory -- that cosmic radiation may be causing some of Toyota's electrical issues.  The feds received an anonymous tip from an industry source that Toyota's microprocessors, memory chips and software may be more sensitive to cosmic rays than its competitors, causing increased incidences of malfunctions.  Such problems are commonplace with airplanes or spaceships, raising the need for extremely robust electronic designs.

Sung Chung, who runs a California testing firm, says he believes the tipster may be correct.  He states, "I think it could be a real issue with Toyota.  [But] nobody wants to come out and say we have issues and we need to test."

Electrical interference could help to explain the unintended acceleration afflicting 13 models across Toyota's lineup, or about 5.6 million vehicles in total.  While software and hardware can compensate, to an extent for cosmic interference, cosmic rays can potentially cause the kind of unrepeatable "single event upsets" that could add up to many of the 3,000 complaints against Toyota received by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since 2000.

William Price, who worked at a jet propulsion laboratory studying extraterrestrial electromagnetic interference (EMI) for 20 years, comments, "[It] occurs virtually anywhere.  It doesn't happen in a certain locale like you would expect in an electromagnetic problem from a radio tower or something else."

A Toyota spokesperson in a brief comment to said that Toyota's protections against extraterrestrial EMI were "robust against this type of interference" and that its vehicles featured "absolute reliability".

Toyota may not be the only one susceptible to cosmic EMI, though.  Other manufacturers likely would have similar occurrences even in more reliable designs, albeit less frequently.

Cosmic EMI may turn out to be of little concern, or it may turn out to be a major problem with the increased use of in car electronics.  The auto industry used to use mechanical links, but now uses electrical throttle controls to save weight and space, and make other technologies possible, such as stability control.  Those benefits could come at a cost, though.


There's a lot of confusion about what "cosmic interference" or "cosmic EMI" is.  "Cosmic interference" or "cosmic radiation" can mean one of two things:
First, disruption due to cosmic rays, which are primarily composed of protons (hydrogen ions), helium nuclei (alpha particles), and high energy electrons.  Secondly, cosmic bodies like the sun can transmit self-propagating electromagnetic waves through the vacuum.  These waves can be referred to as "cosmic EMI".  Cosmic particles can also cause damage, but aren't referred to as EMI.  This article is referring to both cosmic rays and cosmic electromagnetic radiation.

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By Lord 666 on 3/16/2010 4:51:54 PM , Rating: 2
If EMI is related to the SA cases, it would be very difficult to build shields for all of the vehicle's processors.

Would just ask Toyota for my money back until they harden/shield their chips.

By porkpie on 3/16/2010 4:56:53 PM , Rating: 2
" would be very difficult to build shields for all of the vehicle's processors."

You can't shield against cosmic rays...not unless you want a few feet of lead or water on top of your vehicle.

By Lord 666 on 3/16/2010 5:01:43 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly my point... So if they prove that Toyota's design is more prone to EMI issues, they will be buying back an insane amount of cars.

By porkpie on 3/16/2010 5:13:31 PM , Rating: 1
NOT EMI. Say it again-- cosmic rays are not EMI.

In any case, even if true, they won't buy back entire vehicles; they'll just replace the control module with one more resilient to soft errors.

By Lord 666 on 3/16/2010 5:33:11 PM , Rating: 2
Hey smartie pants, your just upset you didn't think of outside interference before with the Toyota SA cases;)

Anyway, if they cut corners with non-ecc memory in one area, wouldn't trust my life in any of their cars. Money back or sued into oblivion.

Ironically, it would be funny if the US gives financial support to Toyota for their financial woes.

By Samus on 3/17/2010 5:06:59 AM , Rating: 5
Financial woes? They might not be selling as many cars as before, and sure the recall is costing them a few billion or so, but you are talking about a huge corporation, technically the largest automotive label in the world (VAG takes the cake when you roll in their underlings.)

This problem isn't impossible to fix. Infact a expensive, but simple solution is to simply have redundancy. ECC memory isn't going to help the problem, but perhaps adding a throttle control secondary somewhere (maybe in the cruise control circuit) and adding a simple mechanical override like an emergency shutdown would both do a world of good to a vehicle prone to this sort of radiation.

ECU's are already pretty well insultated from the elements, particularely moisture and heat, so perhaps they could relocate them to a place in the vehicle they are less prone to interferance such as under the drivers seat. The driver's body might act as a disruptor to cosmic radiation.

There are many things they can do to resolve this problem is cosmic interferance is to blame.

But if it is a software problem and they haven't fixed it by now, they better fix it fast if they want to stay on top.

By AstroGuardian on 3/18/2010 6:08:55 AM , Rating: 3
Why don't they just leave the old mechanics in the critical systems?

By leexgx on 3/19/2010 9:57:39 PM , Rating: 2
emergency shutdown would both do a world of good to a vehicle prone to this sort of radiation.

most do not know that holding the power button turns off the computer (in this case Toyota and 1-2 other car makers),

some other makes of cars that use push button start have an panic detection (hammer the start button the car cuts the engine off) as most are thinking to much when there car is doing 90mph and

911 or 999 do not know how to stop new cars that have got the car stuck in runaway mode

all car makers should use the same system to stop an engine both ways should be used, panic start button shutdown ECU (as most would do this hitting the start button) and Hold start to shutdown ECU (some computer techs may try this most would not)

By ekv on 3/16/2010 6:47:02 PM , Rating: 2
I believe semiconductor manufacturer's [like AMD, Intel, Cypress, etc.] still make mil-spec IC's. There is a special class within mil-spec that accounts for radiation hardened IC's. That's what they use on the Shuttle. I don't think the Shuttle has lead shielding.

Very expensive IC's. It'd be silly to use mil-spec on a terrestrial consumer application like a car's computer. Cheaper methods exist ... like you could have a secondary computer / backup and voting, etc.

By porkpie on 3/16/2010 7:22:24 PM , Rating: 4
In general, you can't solve SEU type problems with a second computer. You need triple redundancy. With only two, if they disagree, you don't know which one is correct.

In theory, you could just use the disagreement itself to detect an event, and make both computers recalculate their results...but in a realtime control situation, that isn't practical, especially since in the general case, it requires a reboot / refresh all memory from persistent storage. Meanwhile, your car/jet/spacecraft is maneuvering out of control.

By Shining Arcanine on 3/16/2010 8:09:03 PM , Rating: 2
You still need a computer to decide which of the three is right. :/

By randomly on 3/16/2010 8:37:55 PM , Rating: 5
No, the data streams of the three computers are compared by a voting circuit which flags the odd data out and sends the bad computer off to sit in the corner.

You can certainly minimize catastrophic problems caused by SEU with proper programming. Bounds checking of I/O and data, COP (computer operating properly) reset timers, check sum verification of firmware, etc. Rebooting an engine controller can be done in milliseconds since program memory is non-volatile and the amount of program and data memory is really quite small.

If you make the effort you can certainly get an engine computer to detect improper operation and handle it gracefully. It is a non-trivial task however.

By Alexvrb on 3/16/2010 11:57:13 PM , Rating: 2
You could just use a single module with a little bit of internal redundancy. The other issue is with sensors. If all of your computers are fed by a single sensor, and that sensor is faulty, they would all be fed the same data. So you really need multiple sensors too, if you're really going the paranoid route.

Or you could just use limp mode and/or safe defaults if a major issue is detected (sensor value out of expected range, etc), which all manufacturers do, and put in robust computers. Plus throw in a brake override switch, that has the computer close the throttle whenever the primary brakes are depressed.

By randomly on 3/17/2010 2:20:41 AM , Rating: 3
I don't think I was clear in my previous post but you can do all those things I mentioned in my previous post with a single processor and those techniques are used fairly often. Bounds checking sensor data can go a long ways toward detecting faulty sensors. Many sensor types will fail at one extreme or another, which will be outside the range of normal output values and so you can detect the failure. There are also ways of monitoring sensors to see if they are operating within expected parameters. Gas pedals jammed by floor mats is another matter.

In the case of brakes there can be a pedal position sensor and also a pedal depressed switch or sensor. So there can be sensor redundancy, and it's not paranoid to do that. If either brake pedal sensor reads as depressed then the throttle is driven to zero.

By randomly on 3/16/2010 8:22:14 PM , Rating: 2
A theory rapidly gaining traction is that SEU caused processing faults are to blame for the current dysfunctional state of American politics.

Still hotly debated though is whether this lack of fault tolerance is caused by defective hardware in the politicians or just bad programming.

By ekv on 3/16/2010 10:41:04 PM , Rating: 2
I meant to write tertiary (not secondary). "Triple redundancy" is even more precise a statement. Thanks.

Actually, it turns out the Shuttle does have some shielding on their AP-101S'. Of course, they have 5 computers. Quite robust.
[the "Flight systems" section details how they vote]

By porkpie on 3/16/2010 11:42:20 PM , Rating: 2
"Actually, it turns out the Shuttle does have some shielding on their AP-101S"

I don't believe that's true; their computer gear is usually hardened, but not shielded.

In any case, its not really relevant to ground-level GCRs; the Shuttle has the solar wind and the Van Allen belts to deal with; particle energy levels in both cases can easily be shielded against. The problem with doing so, however, is it actually increases the problems from the higher-energy GCRs.

By Iketh on 3/17/2010 10:11:29 AM , Rating: 2
today's chips (even if it's not AMD or Intel) can recalculate hundreds or thousands of times a second, which only proves that hardware redundancy is not needed since one computer can re-check its own calculations many times before taking action... meaning they could solve their issues with a software fix

but that's assuming this interference happens in a fraction of a second...

and the redundancy fix assumes the interference is very localized to the point that 2 computers sitting side-by-side (or anywhere in the same vehicle) won't receive the same interference

By porkpie on 3/17/2010 11:09:51 AM , Rating: 2
"since one computer can re-check its own calculations many times before taking action.."

But if it is calculating based on a memory value that's been corrupted as a result of a SEU (the normal situation), it doesn't matter how many times it recalculates -- the answer is still going to be incorrect.

"the redundancy fix assumes the interference is very localized to the point that 2 computers sitting side-by-side won't receive the same interference"

They won't. A GCR hit is due to a single atomic nucleus strike. It's hard to get more localized than that.

By Iketh on 3/17/2010 7:08:49 PM , Rating: 2
But if it is calculating based on a memory value that's been corrupted as a result of a SEU (the normal situation), it doesn't matter how many times it recalculates -- the answer is still going to be incorrect.

Sure, if you program the redundancy poorly. The cars perform normally after it has been shut off to the point investigators are not even able to replicate the occurrence. Software programmers can check against redundant constants and use an algorithm to determine if the calculation is within the limits set by the algorithm.

By porkpie on 3/17/2010 7:15:41 PM , Rating: 2
Software programmers can check against redundant constants and use an algorithm to determine if the calculation is within the limits set by the algorithm.
And what if its within limits, but still incorrect? (i.e. a pedal position calculated at 90%, when its really at 0%?) Or what if the code that compares the "redundant constants" is what's corrupted, rather than the constants themselves?

There's a reason triple (and higher) redundant clusters exist. There is no general way to achieve guaranteed reliable results simply by recalculating with a single node.

By Ammohunt on 3/17/2010 2:20:55 PM , Rating: 2
SUN 10 years ago has exactly this problem with the cache memory on some its SPARC CPU's that was sensitive to Cosmic Rays if i remember right it would casue kernel panics. From what i understand it has to do with either the thinkness of the wires on the die or the distance between them hence the reason space probes and the shuttle use ancient CPU's for their processing tasks like hardened versions of Motorola 68000's

By Googer on 3/17/2010 4:03:15 AM , Rating: 2
Cosmic Rays may not be the problem. But if it were, it wouldn't hurt for Toyota to use ECC in all of their electronics.

By Lord 666 on 3/17/2010 4:04:33 PM , Rating: 2
That video was interesting, but the researcher stopped short of recommending what the corrective action should be or the root cause.

Either way, Toyota does not have the situation under control and any corrective action should be third party reviewed.

By johnpombrio on 3/21/2010 8:07:38 PM , Rating: 2
Whoa! Great link, thanks! From the beginning, the first thing I thought of was the programming of the car's electronics. To happen over such a wide range of vehicles and years, I seriously doubted mats of sticky pedals could cause this.
I have watched programmers working on the CPU for truck brakes years ago and they had to put in a ton of fault tolerances to cover unexpected inputs. Nothing to do with cosmic rays, just a good rain could cause input failures.
"The fault does not lie with the stars, but with ourselves"

Micro shrinks = greater susceptability
By brumbrum on 3/16/2010 4:22:30 PM , Rating: 3
Makes sense.

It has long been commented that as microchip designs shrink in size, their susceptability increases to cosmic radiation (high energy particles from distant galaxies or even the sun.

What happens when a CPU register gets corrupted randomly?

With the solar activity recently at record low levels, the ionsphere - our natural defense against such radiation has shrunk to record low dimensions.

A die cast can doesnt offer much protection against such radiation.

By porkpie on 3/16/2010 4:51:14 PM , Rating: 2
"It has long been commented that as microchip designs shrink in size, their susceptability increases to cosmic radiation"

Long postulated, but actually the susceptibility of DRAMs (originally by far the largest source of such problems) has decreased considerably as dies have shrunk, for a variety of different reasons I won't go into here.

The error rates for SRAMs and CMOS in general have still been increasing though.

By drank12quartsstrohsbeer on 3/16/2010 4:57:12 PM , Rating: 2
Tin Whiskers. see nvidia

By bobsmith1492 on 3/16/2010 6:33:43 PM , Rating: 2
Completely different issue related to lead-free solder...

RE: Micro shrinks = greater susceptability
By randomly on 3/16/2010 5:13:43 PM , Rating: 5
Yes the smaller the size the more susceptible.

Since Human brain chemistry is based on molecular sized structures this is why aliens find it so easy to manipulate our thoughts with cosmic rays and control which posts on DailyTech are rated up or down.

This data indirectly reveals that aliens have a sense of humor, albeit a rather childish one.

By SPOOFE on 3/17/2010 5:24:14 PM , Rating: 2
Since Human brain chemistry is based on molecular sized structures this is why aliens find it so easy to manipulate our thoughts

I think you're downplaying the skill those aliens have, as our brains are ridiculously fault-tolerant; I can blast a three-foot metal pole straight through your frontal lobe, and it's possible that you survive (though you might be grumpier afterwards). Those aliens must be talented indeed to manipulate such a robust processor. :D

By bravenewworld on 3/18/2010 2:23:11 AM , Rating: 2
That is what I gathered when I was abducted ;) They sure seemed to like those Japanese game shows where people, fall, get knocked over by something, or hit in a certain sensitive area :p

Thanks for the laugh BTW!

Occam's razor
By bildan on 3/16/2010 5:21:21 PM , Rating: 2
The most likely reason a 'problem' can't be found is there is no problem.

If you can't find the 'problem', blame it on cosmic rays.

RE: Occam's razor
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 5:29:00 PM , Rating: 2
That's my own person theory. Toyota's per-vehicle S/A reports are only slightly higher than Ford (and below Volkswagen).

Ever automaker has a very few cars where the accelerator sticks once in a while. 90% of the time, though, its human error. Add in the media frenzy and all the "me too" copyright reports, and you can explain the data entirely, without invoking any hidden systemic design flaws.

RE: Occam's razor
By siuol11 on 3/16/2010 6:29:33 PM , Rating: 2
What exactly is a copyright report?

RE: Occam's razor
By chagrinnin on 3/16/2010 7:21:01 PM , Rating: 2
I think he meant "copycat".

RE: Occam's razor
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 7:23:25 PM , Rating: 2
lol, yes I did. My apologies.

RE: Occam's razor
By Lerianis on 3/17/2010 6:00:48 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, no, you cannot. My mother friend's husband had this happen to him recently, and he didn't 'panic' but he still managed to cream 5 cars before getting the car under control and into neutral!

It just TOOK OFF on him, he wasn't even TOUCHING the damned gas pedal, he was braking to a stop and all of a sudden.....VROOM! And off he goes!

So, there has to be some SEVERE problem with the gas pedals or engine system in these cars to make that happen.

RE: Occam's razor
By whiskerwill on 3/17/2010 11:26:17 AM , Rating: 2
Your mother's brother's daughter's friend of a friend's husband huh?

Sounds like his foot just slid off the brake and hit the gas and he didn't want to tell anyone, so he blamed it on the car.

RE: Occam's razor
By SPOOFE on 3/17/2010 5:29:14 PM , Rating: 2
Textbook case of mass hysteria? There've been larger incidents based on less; see the Great Seattle Windshield Epidemic.

RE: Occam's razor
By delphinus100 on 3/22/2010 1:36:54 PM , Rating: 2
Possibly. I mean, are we seeing a comparable number of random NON-accelerator errors?

Cosmic Rays and Toyota
By jimmyj68 on 3/16/10, Rating: 0
RE: Cosmic Rays and Toyota
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 6:09:07 PM , Rating: 3
While I agree with your point in general, your specific example of airliners and fighter jets is flawed. Chips in these systems are typically radiation hardened...primarily because cosmic ray activity at higher altitudes is a much more serious problem.

RE: Cosmic Rays and Toyota
By jimmyj68 on 3/16/2010 6:44:45 PM , Rating: 2
What does radiation hardened mean? Simply speaking, how is it done?

RE: Cosmic Rays and Toyota
By Eris23007 on 3/16/2010 6:49:20 PM , Rating: 3
Various combinations of shielding, larger transistor feature sizes, and redundancy (e.g. comparing multiple answers and taking the "right" one).

RE: Cosmic Rays and Toyota
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 7:06:11 PM , Rating: 2
There's a whole basket of techniques. The most common isn't hardening against radiation per se, but simple error-correction and redundancy techniques, such as using ECC memory.

True radiation hardening can also be done in a number of ways, such as by building the chips on a substrate other than silicon (si-germanium or sapphire), minimizing dielectrics, etc.

RE: Cosmic Rays and Toyota
By walk2k on 3/16/10, Rating: -1
RE: Cosmic Rays and Toyota
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 7:11:28 PM , Rating: 2
"You're kidding right? Cosmic rays pass right through the entire planet while barely noticing it. A few thousand feet of air isn't going to make a damn difference."

Totally incorrect. Cosmic rays do not "pass right the entire planet". They won't even reach into a deep cave or the bottom of the ocean. You may be thinking of neutrinos. Cosmic rays are nothing but high energy neutrons and protons.

There have been a large number of studies correlating cosmic-ray SEU events to altitude.

RE: Cosmic Rays and Toyota
By Shining Arcanine on 3/16/2010 8:06:36 PM , Rating: 3
Well, both of them are cosmic rays. It is just that one does not interact heavily with matter and the other does.

RE: Cosmic Rays and Toyota
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 8:35:54 PM , Rating: 4
No. If you want to stretch a point, you can call neutrinos cosmic radiation (though most come from the sun), but you can't call them cosmic rays.

The only reason we get to call cosmic rays "rays" is because of historical precedent overriding pedantic correctness.

By SandmanWN on 3/16/2010 4:50:49 PM , Rating: 2
I read the article carefully, but nowhere did I see any evidence that quantifies this statement:
The feds are now examining a rather wild theory -- that cosmic radiation may be causing some of Toyota's electrical issues.

Where is the link showing the "Feds" are investigating Toyota's against cosmic ray interference?

Did someones imagination conjure up this story?

RE: Question
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 4:52:58 PM , Rating: 3
Click the last link.

RE: Question
By SandmanWN on 3/16/2010 5:00:13 PM , Rating: 2
No, that article has no sources other than the anonymous tip.

It says the tip was added to the list but the NHTSA didn't confirm it.

So, is it on the list?
Who told it was placed on the list?
Is there any credibility to the article.

RE: Question
By SandmanWN on 3/16/2010 5:08:14 PM , Rating: 2
nevermind, I see the back and forth on the PDF.

Although it's peculiar that the NHTSA would accept anonymous tips from a free Gmail address. Surely the individual behind that information would have their organization formally submit that on the individuals behalf if it was credible.

RE: Question
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 5:11:22 PM , Rating: 4
Pulling out the tinfoil hat, either:

a) They work for Toyota.
b) They work for a Toyota competitor.

In neither case would they want "their organization" submitting it under their name.

RE: Question
By SandmanWN on 3/16/2010 5:20:06 PM , Rating: 2
yeah, I could see that being an issue! :P

RE: Question
By gsellis on 3/17/2010 1:22:28 PM , Rating: 2
The last time I heard this canard was from IBM. IBM tried to convince everyone not to buy non-IBM hardware. Their story was that Microchannel Architecture (MCA) was not prone to spurious data on the bus from cosmic rays like the ISA bus was. IOW, if you bought those new Gateway 2000 computers at half the cost of the IBM Model 70, you were going to have data problems.

Toyota has an obvious problem in the firmware of the ECU and how it interfaces with the ABS and regenerative system. They are just too arrogant to take such an issue on. It must be the user.

Sheeze Louise...
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 8:31:35 PM , Rating: 4
To correct Jason's "correction":
There's a lot of confusion about what "cosmic interference" or "cosmic EMI" is. "Cosmic interference" or "cosmic radiation" can mean one of two things:
First, disruption due to cosmic rays, which are primarily composed of protons (hydrogen ions), helium nuclei (alpha particles), and high energy electrons. Secondly, cosmic bodies like the sun can transmit self-propagating electromagnetic waves through the vacuum. These waves can be referred to as "cosmic EMI". Cosmic particles can also cause damage, but aren't referred to as EMI. This article is referring to both cosmic rays and cosmic electromagnetic radiation.

One, while "cosmic electromagnetic radiation" does exist, it doesn't cause single-event errors, and bears no relation to this article.

Two, EM waves from the sun aren't called "cosmic EMI." They're called sunlight. I think you may be thinking of interference from solar flares/storms etc...these are highly charged particles (low energy cosmic rays) but NOT electromagnetic in nature. Further, these solar based low energy particles are almost totally absorbed by the atmosphere...its the GCRs (galactic cosmic rays) that reach the ground (where the Toyota's are).

Three (minor), while you did a good job quoting the Wikipedia definition of cosmic rays, that is true only for those striking the earth's atmosphere. At ground level, the flux is almost entirely from secondary cosmic rays, and SEU are caused by neutrons and protons.

Four, why do you say "self propagating" electromagnetic wave. Did you think there are some that don't self-propagate?

RE: Sheeze Louise...
By tookablighty on 3/16/2010 11:48:42 PM , Rating: 2
EM waves from the sun aren't called "cosmic EMI." They're called sunlight.

RE: Sheeze Louise...
By grenableu on 3/17/2010 6:29:25 AM , Rating: 2
There's a lot of confusion about what "cosmic interference" or "cosmic EMI" is.
I think the only one confused is Senor Mick.

RE: Sheeze Louise...
By Arc177 on 3/17/2010 10:02:03 AM , Rating: 2
Yes Jason Mick should take down whatever science degree he has and send it back to his alma mater with an apology.
Also agree as you pointed out elsewhere the SEU effect would be discernible by separating data by elevation. If nothing jumps out at you then this is likely a red herring from the owners of GM (Government Motors).
Beyond that take a representative sample of these control modules and stick the things in a proton beam at IU's cyclotron facility and determine their susceptibility. Then goto Texas A&M and do heavy ion testing just to be thorough.

Of course if we have to start Rad testing all of our cars expect the price to go up, having to test every lot of semiconductors the way it is done for mil-spec rad hard parts would probably add a large expense onto vehicle cost. I am SURE Toyota does not want to open this Pandora's box. I can see douche queen Barbara Boxer or some other libturd asking:
"Why didn't you test for this?..."
To which the answer is that it isn't a plausible mode of failure. But scientifically illiterate morons make it seem like it is.

My personal take is that this is all a wild goose chase.
While it is possible it just isn't plausible. There are multiple layers of metal between the ECU and the incoming Cosmic Rays, it just doesn't seem likely even on the sample sizes of millions of Toyotas. The actual failure rates don't seem to support it either.

RE: Sheeze Louise...
By gsellis on 3/17/2010 1:31:02 PM , Rating: 2
Bahahaha.... I just realized, Toyota should be talking up Dr. Svenmark. Lower solar magnetic fields -> lower terrestrial fields -> greater GCR. So, the sun is responsible for this. :)

Unlocked but not open.
By Devenish on 3/16/2010 10:27:33 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is while the Nexus 1 is unlocked and share all four GSM frequencies, each phone has separate 3G/UMTS bands requiring a different phone for different networks.

This was generally not considered an issue for most when they are already bound to a long term contract and rewarded a subsidy (approximately $350) to cover these set limitations, but when demanding a premium price for an unlocked device all bands should be offered to allow the user to use the device as they see fit.

At least if you have to cancel after 120 days the ETF is far cheaper.

RE: Unlocked but not open.
By Devenish on 3/16/2010 10:28:40 PM , Rating: 2
My mistake this is on the wrong article.

RE: Unlocked but not open.
By chagrinnin on 3/16/2010 10:53:38 PM , Rating: 4
Must be that cosmic ray glitch thingy. :P

Prelude to attack?
By teflonbilly on 3/16/2010 4:40:15 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps. I think Toyota should become the chief investor in a new Star Wars program to protect us from the obvious threats from space.

Why didn't we see this coming? Who is holding back the intel? Roswell guys? Area 51? Speak up! Our cars are going crazy, soon it will be our MP3 players, then we will be powerless!

In all seriousness, is this actually even remotely true? I have a hard time believing that "cosmic rays" could be causing this, since they are not having much effect on other areas. Are we going to start blaming computer crashes and exploding Iphone batteries on this now?

RE: Prelude to attack?
By JediJeb on 3/16/2010 5:01:13 PM , Rating: 3
It is one of the reasons Error Correcting Memory is used, because random cosmic rays can cause bits to flip in a memory stick in a computer. While it may not be that big of a problem while playing games or reading email, when doing high level number crunching like weather forecasting with a super computer one bad bit could promulgate into a very big error down the line.

For the electronic systems in cars, it guess it would depend on exactly which bit got flipped. Randomly hit the bit that would change Accelerator Stable to Accelerator Increase in the program for the cruise control and what might happen?

RE: Prelude to attack?
By Arc177 on 3/17/2010 10:33:22 AM , Rating: 2
You've just given the Al Gore Warming crowd a new excuse. Lol.
"Bit flips caused by cosmic rays induced errors in our computer climate simulations, ...umm yeah that's why we're wrong all the time, yep"

The Prius acceleration problem is widespread
By troysavary on 3/17/2010 12:15:45 AM , Rating: 3
We only hear about the incidents where it caused a crash, but it happens all the time. Breaking while driving over a bump apparently causes it. One Prius owner stated that it happens so often that he knows which parts of the road on his drive home are likely to cause it and is ready to compensate.

By Lerianis on 3/17/2010 6:07:31 AM , Rating: 2
Ah, if this is true..... then this is coming from something on all of these cars not being bolted or pressed into place correctly! I.E. the whole 'for every action, there is a 'reaction' is coming into play, and when you slow down.... some part of the car is MOVING out of place and sending random junk data to the computer on these electronic gas pedal cars.

By porkpie on 3/17/2010 9:43:57 AM , Rating: 2
"Breaking while driving over a bump apparently causes it"

Your post was from an idiot driver who doesn't realize when ANY car with ABS goes over a very bumpy surface, the brakes are going "stop working" briefly, because the tyres have lost traction, and the ABS is preventing you from skidding. If you're braking at the time, the ABS kicking in will feel like "sudden acceleration", when you've really just stopped decelerating.

The NHTSA has tested just this scenario (not just with Priuses, but with many other vehicles). In their opinion, they consider the very slight increase in stopping distance to be worth the additional driving control.

BTW, did you read the actual STORY in your link? Let me quote:

Three main points counter the allegation that the Prius has a tendency to accelerate out of control, endangering its drivers.
(1) Proportionally, complaints about the Prius occur no more often than for other vehicles.
(2) No vehicle can out-accelerate its brakes
(3) "Sudden acceleration" has never been proven in any vehicle

My first reaction to the title
By rudolphna on 3/16/2010 9:15:41 PM , Rating: 4
In order

1. Blink several times
2. Roll eyes
3. Shake head
4. Click on article
5. While page is loading thinking it must be a joke, or it's a Mick article

By turkeycusser on 3/16/2010 10:21:58 PM , Rating: 2

Senile dementia a root cause of Toyota's problems?
By brundall on 3/16/2010 4:45:30 PM , Rating: 2
My theory on Toyota's braking and acceleration problems is based on the fact that a large majority of it's owners are aged 80 years+ and more than likely cannot remember (due to senile dementia) if they braked or accelerated their car in emergency situations.

Alternatively, most of them are wearing Q-Ray magnetic bracelets which somehow magnify the alien solar rays to devastating effect

By walk2k on 3/16/2010 7:10:52 PM , Rating: 3
I don't know how much age has to do with it.... but actually the vast majority of U/A cases the root cause is usually found to be the driver punching the gas pedal instead of the brake.

Loose nut on the controls, in other words.

EMI is a designed for feature
By bortiz on 3/16/2010 8:14:17 PM , Rating: 2
I used to work designing PC's. All PC's and DRAM are designed with EMI in mind, including cosmic rays. More than cosmic rays or sodder joints (an issue which was designed out 15 years ago) you have the issue of under the hood radiation. Specifically referring to spark plugs. For those of you who have done bad radio installs in old cars like I have, you hear the engine rev's on the radio. Toyota's are typically designed commercial electronics protected with lead shields and placing the computer under the front bumper. I personally opted for a Nissan because they tend to use high voltage (custom silicon) that can be placed right in the engine bay with no shielding. Both have there advantages and disadvantages - being and engineer I researched this decided which I preferred and went with this (this is sad).

More importantly, EMI problems would show up as parity bit error - very easily testable. This is also one of the more likely first tests that would be done on any black box, check for data corruption. Toyota having reported on results of the data analysis you can be sure then that this is not an issue.

For those trying seriously to resolve the issue, sorry, try again. This isn't it.

RE: EMI is a designed for feature
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 8:43:10 PM , Rating: 3
Repeat after me. Cosmic rays are not EMI. Different source, different effects on circuits.

By Sazabi19 on 3/16/2010 4:07:36 PM , Rating: 4
Just play really loud yodeling music, you vehicle and any that can hear it will never have electrical probelms again:)

Easy to test
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 4:40:51 PM , Rating: 2
If cosmic ray based soft errors are to blame, then we should expect a much higher rate of sudden-acceleration problems in high-altitude areas such as Denver, compared to a city like Miami, say.

RE: Easy to test
By lightfoot on 3/16/2010 7:18:03 PM , Rating: 2
It seems as though several of the incidents have occurred in mountainous areas, but it would be impossible for me to determine the rate. In any case mountainous terrain would exacerbate the problem in numerous ways: High altitude driving requires heavier use of the throttle (due to altitude diminishing available horsepower as well as ascending steep slopes) increasing the likelihood of a stuck throttle pedal, in addition to making the brakes less reliable due to overheating due to constant application when going down hill. The slope of the terrain also would greatly alter the physics involved when trying to determine which system will win - the engine, or breaks.

All you need to do is take the reported incidents and adjust for both altitude and terrain. Now we just need more data points.

What strikes me as odd is why wouldn't we be seeing other errors in the electronic systems in Toyotas? Is the throttle control system the only part of the system susceptible to this type of error? For every one error in the throttle system I would expect hundreds (if not thousands) of errors effecting other systems to varying degrees. (Obviously the check engine light coming on doesn't make headlines like an out of control Prius, but still this is a very specific symptom.)

Cop-out Excuse
By Flunk on 3/16/2010 4:49:59 PM , Rating: 2
This is one of those things that people throw out when they're looking for a quick fix answer. Just because we can't prove it wasn't EMI, Cosmic Interferance, Magical Bunnies doesn't mean that there is any reason to think that it was.

Do the testing first, get some evidence and then go out and tell people about it. Thinking up random ideas and just blurting them doesn't help anything.

RE: Cop-out Excuse
By chagrinnin on 3/16/2010 6:12:19 PM , Rating: 2
Female driver: But I found these rabbit pellets in the floorboard!
Mechanic: No Ma'am. These are "Goobers". They're chocolate covered peanuts, Ma'am.
Female driver: Well,...what about these?
Mechanic: Those are "Whoppers" Ma'am.
Female driver: And these?
Mechanic: Chocolate raisins...

iPhone, Apple, Steve Jobs
By hiscross on 3/16/2010 7:34:22 PM , Rating: 2
It must one them so rate me down since I mentioned Apple

RE: iPhone, Apple, Steve Jobs
By whiskerwill on 3/16/2010 7:56:14 PM , Rating: 2
Don't post Pirks-bait please.

Only is America folks...believe it, or not
By griffynz on 3/16/2010 11:04:11 PM , Rating: 2
why does the majority of this stuff happen in the USA ? I mean, how many incidences have happened in other countries? (not including all the UFO and Aliens that keep showing up there too...)
Is it all about LAWSUITS and MONEY?
Why is the picture from a CHEVY site?
Why didn't anyone believe the scientist when they said comic rays could be effecting solar strength, and maybe earths temperature? Global warming from the sun?
Why are most accidents caused by the driver...and why is it still saver to fly?

By markitect on 3/17/2010 8:50:21 AM , Rating: 2
I guess were the only country affected by cosmic rays.

Don't ask, don't tell
By amanojaku on 3/16/2010 4:52:51 PM , Rating: 2
Sung Chung, who runs a California testing firm, says he believes the tipster may be correct. He states, "I think it could be a real issue with Toyota. [But] nobody wants to come out and say we have issues and we need to test."
What were the odds that a Californian would be saying an Asian company has issues it doesn't want to face? What were the odds?!?

ECC Memory?
By Zorlac on 3/16/2010 4:57:53 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe Toyota was trying to save money by getting non-ECC memory? :D

By porkpie on 3/16/2010 4:58:14 PM , Rating: 2
"Electrical interference could help to explain the unintended acceleration afflicting 13 models "

Comsic rays are not electrical interference. They're not even electromagnetic interference.

If this were really a Cosmic problem
By JonB on 3/16/2010 5:57:55 PM , Rating: 2
Torchwood would already be working on it!

By GruntboyX on 3/16/2010 6:32:20 PM , Rating: 2
Cosmic Rays are very misleading in this title, and this article borders on link bait. As a hardware Engineer the real issue is EMI (Electromagnetic Interference). While Cosmic Rays are a component, that is .0001% of the issues faced. Furthermore, Cosmic Rays would show a correlation of events to region and solar cycles. The issue is more related to General Interference. Driving by a Cellphone Tower. Driving under power lines. Lighting. ESD. Radiated interference. Transient waves. ECT...

This is easy to look for and review. A 3rd party test house and or a Government laboratory can easily test and evaluate to Automotive and Regulatory standards. However, if there is a EMI issue, its more related to something the standards dont address. So the Car Total Manufactured Cost was so optimized that the car was designed to just pass standards and not the real world.

However, I doubt that is the issue. This is more a media circus with more speculation flying around, than facts and real data. I miss the days of journalism with real sources and real facts and data.

What does need reviewed, is the Firmware in the car. As complicated as the embedded firmware is, I imagine there could exist a software bug that requires three or four events or inputs to occur. Stack overflow, defective microprocessor with stuck bits. Possibilities are endless.

Toyota has produced about 20 million vehicles in the last 5 years and we are freaking out over 30 or 40 incidents. that is like 2 ppm failure rates. That failure is so buried in the noise floor its nearly impossible to get a reliable understanding of the issue.

My Favorite Part....
By semiconshawn on 3/16/2010 7:14:47 PM , Rating: 2
of this whole fiasco is the U.S. government the owner of the 2nd largest auto maker leading the investigation of the Largest automaker. That is absolute bs.

By RagingDragon on 3/17/2010 4:37:54 AM , Rating: 2
Why would the random errors caused by cosmic rays, cause the exact same problem everytime? If there've been thousands of sudden acceleration events, why haven't there been tens or hundreds of thousands of Toyotas randomly shutting down, rolling windows up or down, unexpectedly turning on the air conditioning or heat, etc.? Either it's a single specific part (rather than all Toyota electronics in general) that's particularly susceptible to cosmic rays, or this tip is bogus.

Blah, blah, blah.
By PAPutzback on 3/17/2010 9:14:34 AM , Rating: 2
I can't believe there is so much talk about how to protect the chips from cosmic rays when the solution is in every car that Toyota doesn't make. Why try to make a costly work around when noone else is having this problem.

They just need triple redundant ecc sheilded sharks with laser beams. Man, some of you posters just really like to throw around bs and talk out your @$$.

If we send them any money or try to give them a break on the class action suits then we should just hand America over now.

Install a screen
By btc909 on 3/17/2010 10:18:10 AM , Rating: 2
Any Toyoda that has a drive by wire accelerator & transmission should have a screen installed in the dash so when the computer wigs out you see a Blue Screen Of Death.
Of course death may actually occur but at least we will know why.

Impending robot apocalypse
By tinwhiskers on 3/17/2010 11:46:05 AM , Rating: 2
In other news, the NHTSA is investigating whether the Toyota Prius has become sentient and is uncontrollably accelerating in an attempt to destroy mankind...

Seriously, though, automotive circuits are required to withstand at least 50V/m EMI. RF interference should be much more of a problem than cosmic rays, and it is already compensated for.

Cosmic Extravagence
By noealo on 3/19/2010 2:48:32 AM , Rating: 2
The claims that cosmic rays will cause soft errors affects all electronics systems. It is not possible to fully protect from radiation based errors.

It is absurd to think that a car would have more redundancy than a space shuttle, airplane, ship, elevator, anything. Think about how much these things cost. Not to mention the rad-hardened processors and voting logic with multi-bit ECC costs a lot of money and these systems are very slow. And that still doesn't protect you from design faults. Design of any nature cannot be perfect especially in consumer products.

So you can either have a car that has a perfect control system that costs more than everything else in the car or you can accept that your cheap control system is good enough. I dont think people understand that if you want to buy something that has actual six sigma relaiblity your going to have to pay through your teeth.

Given that there are no statistically significant anomalies and most recent cases are clearly faked and scam attempts. Not to mention under human factor the knowledge that there exists unintended acceleration leads people to automatically believe that it happened to them when it cant be found.

Talk about using pure mechanical systems is nonsense, if your mechanical break cable fails there is no fail safe that can protect you. A purely mechanical system cannot detect if some critical component failed in an unexpected way. Electronic systems can monitor thousands of parameters and react to system abnormalities.

By YashBudini on 3/19/2010 9:05:32 PM , Rating: 2
Whoda thunk?

What insanity!
By Beenthere on 3/17/2010 11:37:58 AM , Rating: 1
Put these dumbazz Toyota drivers in a wheelborrow and they can probably crash it from "unintended acceleration".

Tell me again how they got a driver's license when they are unable to push on the brake pedal, turn off the ignition or shift the trans into neutral.

I'll wait for the answer...

DT needs an engineer on staff
By invidious on 3/16/10, Rating: -1
RE: DT needs an engineer on staff
By brumbrum on 3/16/2010 4:43:49 PM , Rating: 3
Nonsense! - cosmic radiation are high energy particles from space.

See here for an explanation why they damage electronics leID=188702274

RE: DT needs an engineer on staff
By ekv on 3/16/2010 7:12:32 PM , Rating: 2
I couldn't get the link to work (for whatever reason) so, if you don't mind,

go to
and use their search to find the article
"Cosmic rays damage automotive electronics"

Easy read. Relevant. +1

RE: DT needs an engineer on staff
By Arc177 on 3/17/2010 11:22:56 AM , Rating: 2
Excellent article. I never considered CR to be an issue for cars. I thought ASICs and such were more typical but in the last few years FPGAs have been getting cheaper and ever more capable.
I am not familiar with Toyotas control systems and don't know if they use the types of FPGA systems discussed in that article. If these types of systems are being implemented it sounds like there could be a bad design habit that needs to be corrected...but the question is 'is that the case?'

RE: DT needs an engineer on staff
By porkpie on 3/16/2010 4:46:58 PM , Rating: 5
Incorrect. Single-event upsets from ionizing cosmic ray strikes are a well-documented problem with memory chips (and to a lesser extent, all microchips)

General EMI interference is an entirely different phenomenon.

RE: DT needs an engineer on staff
By jhb116 on 3/16/2010 5:48:21 PM , Rating: 2
I wish they would not refer to it as "cosmic interference" - inferring aliens or something like that.

However - there are many documented interference events from space as a result of solar flare activity from our own Sun. Although the possibility exists that Toyota's are being impacted - unless there is some correlation with other problems and major solar flare activity - I don't think this is a credible theory.

By DigitalFreak on 3/16/2010 8:50:48 PM , Rating: 2
DT is a tech gossip rag. What do you expect?

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