By Andres Peekna, Ph.D.
Parkinson’s Law, when applied to technology, would read something like “Left to itself, technology would home in on maximum complexity.” Indeed, for a design engineer it takes great self-discipline to fight that, in order to come up with the most elegant, simple design.
The unwanted, spontaneous acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles have been much in the news lately. I too had an accelerator pedal get stuck once (due to snow and ice accumulation inside, it turned out). As the car was a stick-shift, there never was a safety problem. I recall that back in the 1950’s, Chrysler automatic transmission cars had a third pedal, labeled “safety
clutch.” Perhaps this simple solution should be brought back.
Now, there is much talk about electronic stability control, and even about automating accident-avoidance by proximity sensors and other electronic means. All this is great, provided that it works exactly right. In the case of older, less than properly maintained vehicles, what is the chance that an accident-avoidance control gone awry would actually CAUSE an accident? I prefer not to find out firsthand.
The last car I bought is a Subaru Forester 2009. It is a fine all-wheel-drive, all-weather car, and I really like it, except for one thing. In order to improve theft-proofing, the folks at Subaru designed an electronic key. If during an outing I were to drop it into the water, or fall into the water with the key in my pocket, I will not be able to start the car! Please, pretty please, bring back the simple mechanical key!
Simplicity is at the heart of true engineering elegance. The trappings of complexity are flashy, but worth much less in a real test under worst-case conditions.