Toyota are now claiming that the brake problem that has resulted in almost another half million cars being recalled is due to a software problem in the computer involved in running the braking system. The fix is a simple one, a patch to the program.

In my 35 years in the computer industry I have seen many problems in computer software, in the business we call them bugs. That term has an interesting origin. The founder of modern computer programming is Grace Hopper, and on September 9th, 1945 was working on an early computer the Mark II when a moth caused a short circuit. After removing the dead carcase the technicians explained that they had “debugged” the computer. From that day on the term has stuck!

Computer programs are actually quite difficult to create, even with todays advanced development tools developing a program that does not have flaws is an almost impossible task. Over the years there have been numerous studies on the subject. Most claim that even well designed programs contain between 15-50 errors per 1000 lines of code. When you consider that Windows is code is measured in the millions of lines of code you begin to realize how serious this issue is.

The most reliable manufacturer of computer software is NASA, but even they have the occasional problem. The Mars rovers have had been rebooted several times.

In todays world computers are everywhere. You might be surprised to discover just how many you have embedded in the devices that you use everyday.  Your TV, your Cell Phone, your microwave, and of course your car!

My question is a simple one. As systems become more complex they become more prone to error and more difficult to maintain.

I have been driving for nearly 40 years, my first vehicle was a 1944 Morris Minor, it had no frills, everything was completely manual, and everything was simple and cheap to repair. It also got great fuel mileage.

Todays vehicles are a completely different beast. They really do not get better mileage than the good old Moggy Minor, but they are much better appointed, and go faster.

However the Moggy Minor scored great points for reliability. As the years have passed I have driven ever increasingly sophisticated vehicles. But are they better?

Earlier this morning I was watching a TV news broadcast about the Toyota issue with the Prius breaking system and the ‘expert’ being interviewed had a valuable comment to make.

We all have laptop computers, eventually something happens, we just reboot them and everything is fixed, but you can’t do that to your car.

Indeed you cannot!

I say dump the Computers and bring back the veritable Morris Minor.

Simon Barrett

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