CyberTech Rambler

February 24, 2010

Everything carries risk … is just how you (mis)manage it

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 9:47 am

I think this qualifies as knee-jerk reaction: The two Flints of Forbes asks car manufacturers to reconsider drive-by-wire, following the Toyota recall problem. That is not to say they raised a important point, i.e., the ability to trace back to find out what the problem is. However, they should call for better audit/traceability capability to be built into these systems, not asking for them to be taken away.

Drive-by-wire brings risk, but also benefit. Early adopters will face problems, but that is part of the risk and fun of being an early adopter. Like  any technology, electronic or mechanical, drive-by-wire is getting into the main stream, its heavier use will expose problems, as probability becomes statistical certainty. It is unfortunate that engineers have to learn via mistakes. They are difficult and painful lessons. Quite a few will have serious adverse impact on individuals. The only solace we take, and the only responsible way of dealing with their tragedy, is to make sure the sacrifices they made is not in vein, i.e., we use  those tragedy as an impetus to make sure the same thing does not happen again.

No risk equals no gain. Pioneers of air transport sacrifices a lot, including their lives. Large scale air tragedies had occurred before, and though less-frequently, still occurs today. However, we learned from those lessons. If we adopt what the Flints proposed, we will probably still be relying on surface transport only.

Personally, I hate to put a computer in charge of my engine, may it be steering or engine management. I see it as unnecessarily complicate the whole engine environment. Seeing technicians bring a laptop to hook up your engine instead of spanner brings a chill down my spine. However, imagine the benefits it brings: Smoother rides, better emission controls and other, not yet imagined benefit.

In the case of drive-by-wire, I see it as a necessary step to bring the autonomous navigation technology into cars. It supports the development of  the technology by creating a market for which the technology can advance, and I look forward, if it is in my lifetime, the day where I can trust my life to a computer to safely deliver me to my destination in a way that is safer than any human driver can. The Toyota problem gives engineers the jolt needed to remind them that they are not infallible, and while it certainly bring home the shortcoming of technology, and perhaps (rightly) setback the technology, I hope it will not develop to a big problem the way GM crops did in Europe.

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