Improving Collaboration, Reducing Risk
The Toyota Crisis
In the wake of the Toyota auto tragedies over the past twoyears, and the subsequent investigations by NHTSA (the National Highway TrafficSafety Administration), I was surprised to learn how ill-prepared NHTSA wasinitially to dig into the matter -- to see what might have gone wrong, andwhere the blame might fall. The matter: possible vulnerabilities in theelectronic throttle control (ETC) system in several Toyota vehicles. Patentedin 2002, ETC is an electro-mechanical, software-driven subsystem that has beenin production throughout the auto industry for several years, and has taken itsplace among a variety of software based subsystems that have given rise to thevalue of software as a critical component in modern automobiles. The surprise: The Washington Post reported that NHTSA “was woefully unprepared to decidewhether engine electronics might be at fault,” and that “NHTSA officials toldinvestigators that the agency doesn't employ any electrical engineers orsoftware engineers.”
I’m not here to single out NHTSA for inadequacy of oversightor vision, but rather to point out how quickly software has risen as adetermining factor in product design and consumer value. True, the majorplayers in the auto industry have touted the rising value of software inautomobiles (as much as 40% or more). But the federal agency largelyresponsible for auto safety may not have been so much asleep at the wheel assimply caught off guard by the rapid growth of software as a critical elementin product engineering.
As it turns out, NHTSA (usually pronounced “Nit-suh”)enlisted the help of NASA (yes, the National Aeronautics and Spac
But wouldn’t it have been nice to hear from NHTSA’s ownsoftware and systems experts, instead of NASA’s, whose vehicles are chieflydesigned for extraterrestrial transportation? Ideally, regulatory agencies thatoversee all technical endeavors are working to hire the software expertise theyneed to understand the critical role that software now plays.
Software as major competitive diff