How not to sell me a firmware-driven product...

Well, start off your sales pitch by describing how easy it is to reboot the product, and by talking about how I can avoid trips to the repair shop by rebooting it.

I was pretty close to being willing to put down a deposit on a Prius to replace my Saturn, but now I'm off doing a "due diligence" of a sort.  What I've learned so far: there's a software defect which causes the gasoline engine to shut off which may have been fixed in a firmware upgrade.  The NHTSA's Office for Defect Investigation is on the case (investigation PE05029)  but hasn't yet released a final report.  Some of the documents filed by Toyota in response to the ODI's request for investigation have been made available, but there's not that much "meat" in the main document of July 22nd-- which promises follow-on updates on August 5th and/or 26th which don't seem to be available from ODI just yet.

One friend of mine who has a Prius has experienced this stall condition, and then had the firmware upgrade which may -- or may not -- fix it.  He hasn't had a stall since the firmware upgrade but, well, anecdotes are not data.

I'm not so much worried that there are bugs in the firmware.   Of \*course\* there will be bugs in any software system of nontrivial complexity.  But are they set up to diagnose and fix defects found in the field by customers?  Instructing customers to "just hit ctrl-alt-del and drive on" doesn't sound consistent with an attitude towards software quality which will get those defects fixed.  I hope this particular sales guy is an outlyer.

Given the limitations of repair shops, perhaps software-controlled cars like the Prius should be equipped to "phone home" with the moral equivalent of a crash dump whenever anything odd happens....

Comments:

For an amusing (depressing) story about diagnosing a stalled car look at: http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/22.03.html

Posted by Martin Forssén on September 06, 2005 at 06:37 PM EDT #

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