The results of a ten-month study by 30 NASA engineers of possible electronic causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles was released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
"NASA found no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused large unintended accelerations," said Michael Kirsch, principal engineer and team lead of the study from the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) based at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
At the request of Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began the study in March 2010 and asked NASA engineers with expertise in electronic and software systems to look into consumer claims that electronic systems may have played a role in reports of unintended acceleration.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and officials who led the study for NASA and NHTSA provided the results on Tuesday afternoon in Washington.
LaHood thanked NASA and other DOT engineers saying, "We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota's electronics systems, and the verdict is in."
Two mechanical safety defects were identified by NHTSA more than a year ago: "sticking" accelerator pedals and a design flaw that enabled accelerator pedals to become trapped by floor mats. These are the only known causes for the reported unintended acceleration incidents. Toyota recalled nearly 8 million vehicles in the United States for these two defects.
Kirsch went on to say that, "NASA and NHTSA engineers stood side by side in this study to try to find the root cause of the problem. We have a strong team including some of the best electronics and software experts in NASA."
The NESC team included NASA software experts in California to NASA hardware and systems engineers in Maryland who examined computer controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference and software to determine if these systems played a role in incidents of unintended acceleration.
The NESC was established in 2003 in response to the space shuttle Columbia accident with a goal to enable complex problem solving using experts from anywhere in the world. This approach allows the best engineers in their respective disciplines to apply their expertise to tough technical problems. To date, the NESC has engaged in approximately 400 independent technical assessments. Recently, the NESC provided support to the trapped miners in Chile by developing suggested design requirements for the rescue system.