As I eased into town last night on auto-pilot, I depressed the clutch to disengage the cruise control. An anonymous ECU fortunately obeyed, but it also decided to open the right-front window a crack for good measure.
How can we trust penny-shaving automakers to engineer aerospace-grade HW & SW for such a critical task as self-driving when they can't get the simplest things right?
When I wrote about the horrific Toyota problems with unintended acceleration and the unbelievably bad firmware that appeared to be at the root of it, I vowed never to buy that brand, and was glad my 1998 Camry was probably based on simpler technology than the malfunctioning models. But are other brands much better?
The Camry has been replaced with a new-old 2009 Subaru Forester. So far, I like the car, but that opinion will change pretty quickly if the ghosts in the machine keep opening windows...or worse. On some of the coldest days of this winter, the airbag warning light came on for no reason, and the exact same thing happened with my significant other's new-old 2008 Subaru Legacy! That prompted me to hit the Web, and it was no surprise to find other owners complaining of the same thing.
The most common solutions were to reseat all relevant connectors (e.g., the passenger seat sensor), and to resolder the parts on the very simple airbag LED indicator board. I sure hope the ECU doesn't disable the airbags, just because it senses a problem with an LED! But would it surprise me? Not much.
EDN editor Martin Rowe has blogged about his repairs to the clock in his own Forester (see below) – again, a PCB issue.
So, before we've even given any thought to the quality of the software that proposes to drive us around, the hardware seems to be pretty damn flakey.
Yes, we all know that the automotive environment is one of the most challenging to design for, but that knowledge does not console us when we are speeding towards a concrete wall at 120km/h because the self-driving system is having a seizure. Bad management caused the Challenger disaster, and I'm confident bad management (and engineering) will cause many self-driving automobile disasters given half a chance.
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