The sudden acceleration of Toyota vehicles may be due to software issues; if this is the case then there are valuable lessons for all standards developers.  So many products now incorporate electronic controls, yet many have not been evaluated to determine what happens when a failure occurs. 

For mechanical systems we have tried and tested methods to handle failure – a vehicle's hydraulic brake system has a cable emergency brake back-up. The aerospace industry builds in triple redundancy for critical systems.  However for consumer products the pressure to drive down costs does not allow much leeway for backup safety systems. 

The solution is to use functional safety in developing automatic controls.  Assume the product will fail and make sure that the result of that failure leaves the product in safe condition.  A good example of this is the IEC 60730-2-5 standard for burner controls which ensures a malfunctioning boiler does not lead to a gas explosion.    

 


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