By Stephen Markley on March 16, 2010
It sounds like science fiction, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is taking it seriously. Before you laugh, cosmic rays have long been known to trigger errors in the computer systems of airplanes and spacecraft, but after Toyota’s mechanical fixes for floormats and sticky pedals, regulators and automakers are wondering if cosmic rays could be an invisible culprit.
At least half of more than 1,500 complaints over sudden acceleration come from Toyota models not included in the 5.6 million already recalled vehicles. On top of this, an anonymous tip to regulators claimed that the design of Toyota’s microprocessors, memory chips and software possibly made its vehicles more vulnerable to these rays than other automakers.
Cosmic rays strike the atmosphere frequently, and electronics makers have known for a long time that these so-called “single event upsets” can cause computer errors, and now researchers say they at least deserve a look in the sudden-acceleration cases. Single event upsets can cause a software crash to occur without a trace and cannot be blocked like standard radio waves.
Are Cosmic Rays Really Causing Toyota’s Woes? (Detroit Free Press)