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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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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!

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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