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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: SuperChevy.com)
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 
Freep.com 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.

Update:

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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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.




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