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Can An Engineer Prevent the Unknown?

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TJ McDermott
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Re: a new approach needed
TJ McDermott   1/10/2014 12:18:12 AM
Maybe we can't prevent the unknown, but documenting an incident sufficiently would turn it into a known, and the list of unknowns gets whittled down.

One approach would be vehicles that are MUCH more instrumented - more comprehensive recorders, adding some video on looped storage.

It's assuredly a reactive method, but there does not seem to be a proactive method.

Charles Murray
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Re: old news or urban legend ?
Charles Murray   1/9/2014 7:18:33 PM
Today, more than 30,000 lives a year are lost on our roads, GlennA. The belief is that some day, autonomous cars could bring that down to the hundreds. So, yes, I definitely agree with you that self-driving cars will one day save lives. The question is, will our legal system allow it?

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old news or urban legend ?
GlennA   1/9/2014 6:31:15 PM
I don't remember where I read this, but supposedly the reason that Ford got hit so hard in the Pinto lawsuits (would you be surprised if a high-speed rear-end collision caused a fire - it happens it the movies) was that the cost to repair the design flaw would be more expensive than potential lawsuits.  Cost benefit analysis is part of the design process.  And actuaries (life insurance) are in the business of putting a value on human lives.  I have seen a car commercial where an automatic braking system stops the car while the driver is not paying attention to driving.  So there is the potential of a self-friving car to save lives.

Charles Murray
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Re: a new approach needed
Charles Murray   1/9/2014 6:21:05 PM
You're right, naperlou. You can't prove everything. This is a really complex situation because, as you mention, Toyota cars have driven billions of miles with these electronic throttles. So either you believe that the one-in-a-million error occurred, or you believe that the driver stepped on the wrong pedal. Either way, there's no hard evidence. I just wonder now how the pending cases will be resolved.

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Re: a new approach needed
GTOlover   1/9/2014 11:49:22 AM
I agree with what you are saying naperlou. But in reality, we do NOT accept the risk of death in automobile failures. If we did, Toyota would not be forking over 3 million dollars to two families. Do not get me wrong, if the car is crap and is purposefully sold disregarding safety requirements, then they pay. But as pointed out in this article, throttle by wire is a proven and robust technology and Toyota still has to pay.

Self driving cars? I agree, rules of liability have to be established. But then you would put 99% OF ALL LAWYERS OUT OF A JOB!

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a new approach needed
naperlou   1/9/2014 10:00:52 AM
Chuck, you bring up a valid and important topic here.  There is no way to "prove" everything about a vehicle.  Since there are so many vehicles and they are driven so much (in hours and miles) you are likely to run into any error that exists.  So, we cannot prevent problems.  In safety critical systems one typically designs in multiple failsafes.  This is a complex topic.  There are also overrides and safe modes.  This is a well understood area and is applied in the aerospace industry.  Even then, it is not perfect. 

The flip side is that we have lived for about a century with automobiles. They cause more deaths than just about anything else.  We accept that, even though many of the fatalities involve someone just getting from one place to another, often for trivial reasons.  Go figure.

There is probably no real solution.  The next step is to outline the liability rules and install those black boxes.

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