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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 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)

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