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BMW computer crashes, nearly suffocates minister

More fodder for the ongoing debate for licensing programmers. Me, I just drive old cars that don't have computers. That's the best way I think since I know too many programmers.

http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=569&e=4&u=/nm/life_thailand_car_dc

Official Trapped in Car After Computer Fails

5/12/2003
    
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Security guards smashed their way into an official limousine with sledgehammers on Monday to rescue Thailand's finance minister after his car's computer failed.

Suchart Jaovisidha and his driver were trapped inside the BMW for more than 10 minutes before guards broke a window. All doors and windows had locked automatically when the computer crashed, and the air-conditioning stopped, officials said.

'We could hardly breathe for over 10 minutes,' Suchart told reporters. 'It took my guard a long time to realize that we really wanted the window smashed so that we could crawl out. It was a harrowing experience.'

Dennis Atkins
Monday, May 12, 2003

A bigger question is why wasn't there a manual overdrive that allows someone inside to at least get out of the car?

Mark Hoffman
Monday, May 12, 2003

Wow!  Ten minutes with no AC!  Gotta be huge lawsuit coming.  That poor bastard can never get that time back.  Take 'em for a ride I say!

Apart from the fact that I know some of the chaps involved with iDrive, HOLY CRAP, what a waste of sperm this guy is!

#If
Monday, May 12, 2003

Is using a key from outside such a difficult concept?  I don't know much about these cars, but keys generally should override all forms of electric locking mechanisms on a mechanical level.  I can't imagine BMW would be so dumb?  Something's fishy here...

GiorgioG
Monday, May 12, 2003

Here's some more background info I just  dragged up:

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2002/mar02/03-04BMWpr.asp

>Microsoft Technology Hits the Road in BMW 7 Series

>Microsoft Navigates the Automotive Industry, Enhances the Driver Experience

>Microsoft technology powers the navigation feature used in BMW's innovative new iDrive telematics system. (Click for high-resolution image) REDMOND, Wash. -- March 4, 2002

etc

Think they'll be held liable or is the Almighty Bill's slippery eel coating enough to slide through on this one?

Regarding the poor baby trapped for 10 minutes, have you been to Thailand in May? It can get pretty hot - I wouldn't want to be trapped inside a car with bulletproof windows and little hope of escaping while the temperature slowly escalates - 120 degrees, 130 degrees, 140 degrees...

Dogs die every day in the US that are left in cars for just short periods of time with the windows up. this was genuinely life threatening.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, May 12, 2003

Although there have been countless problems with the iDrive, I'm guessing the car in the article had some kind of custom security system.

Anonymous
Monday, May 12, 2003

Dear Dr. Atkins,

We want you as a specialist on our test-team. Your skills in pinpointing the source of trouble in an extremely complex integrated system on the basis of just a very short and vague description out of a what looks to us mere mortals like an ordinary Yahoo news item is simply astounding.

Since hiring you will save not only save us an incredible dollar amount on our QA expense side, but undoubtedly get us a karma boost beyond our wildest dreams (think "the Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century joins WankersRus"), feel free to name your price.

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, May 12, 2003

BTW If you want to show a Microsoft with no pants, be selective. Quality over quantity.
http://www.microsoft.com/security/passport_issue.asp

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, May 12, 2003

Here's a question: why aren't there manual locks available? I realize it's a specially secured car for the minister, but seriously...

Second, why doesn't he have a cell phone? I don't mean to say that this excuses the failure, but he should still have a cell. I don't know how coverage is there, but if it's halfway decent, he should have one. If he is that afraid that he is in enough danger to warrant bulletproof windows, then he should have a phone he can call the guards with.

For that matter, why doesn't he have a damned pen on him? You're telling me that there wasn't one writing instrument in the car at all?! If he'd just had a pen, he could write the message on something, e.g. his arm!

On the topic of the tech, why wasn't it designed with a backup? If it can fail un-gracefully, the least they should do is have a backup. My car stalled the other day; the car doors automatically unlocked themselves, just in case. That may not be the appropriate fallback behavior in this case, but that's why the system should have been designed with an out.

Or am I missing something here?

Mike Swieton
Monday, May 12, 2003

I'd buy a Mercedes just because of the fact that BMW uses WinCE

Mike
Monday, May 12, 2003

CTRL-ALT-DEL; Wait for rebooting; Open the door :-)

:-)
Monday, May 12, 2003

I have a BMW and it's always disturbed me that when the security system is armed there is NO WAY to open the doors from the inside. I.e., if you were in my car and I pressed the "lock" button on the key fob, you are trapped. You cannot manually pull up the door lock switch (both because it's recessed and because mechanically it will pull against you -- I tested it), the central locking control doesn't work, the windows can't be opened.

Your best bet is to keep one of these in the glove compartment:
http://www.lifehammer.com/

BMW owner
Monday, May 12, 2003

Just You,

Actually it was not so hard to figure out as you might think -- Microsoft admits they made the iDrive system in the new BMV and that it controls things like air conditioning. This is not one of those subtle cases in which a lot of analysis is necessary to figure it out. The computer crashed and shut down the air conditioning. The computer on the BMW ran Microsoft CE Automotive, accorditng to Microsoft. Microsoft CE Automotive controls the air conditioning, according to Microsoft. Hm... not too hard to put it together at that point... computer crashed, shut down air conditioning. Wow, I wonder what could have caused it? Surely the computer crashing couldn't have played a factor? See - it's simple to figure these things out if you just look at the facts.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, May 12, 2003

This wasn't a software fault; it was a car-design fault. There was no manual override. Perhaps there are good reasons for that.

Also, since it was BMW or a supplier to BMW, I bet the programmer would have been exactly the type who would satisfy requirements for "licencing" anyway.

"Licencing" has no effect on competence, and may have a slight negative effect.


Monday, May 12, 2003

It amazes me how everything somehow becomes Microsoft's fault to many people. The car in this situation is a much older 520, built long before any Microsoft software was included, and long before the iDrive existed. Ironically, the finance minister was using the government-owned BMW because his official Mercedes had broken down, and after this incident he went back home and drove his own personal BMW without incident. Also, the car may have been modified for security reasons to lock the doors on any failure. It is true that if you lock a BMW using the remote that the doors cannot be opened from the inside, but if there is an accident (if any airbag is activated) then the doors will all unlock.

Less sensational versions of this story are available at:
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/05/12/1052591731421.html
http://www.nationmultimedia.com/page.news.php3?clid=2&theme=A&usrsess=1&id=13761
http://www.bangkokpost.com/Business/13May2003_biz12.html

A fan of both Microsoft and BMW
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

in my 'bulletproof' limo I'd want a refund if someone with a sledgehammer got in so quick!  We've all seen that Bond film right?

Nice
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Dennis,

even if it would have been the WinCE based iDrive, which apparantly it is not, out of the myrad layers of abstraction and all of the hundereds of subcomponents that go into such a system, you can deduce from a simple "the computer crashed" statement written up by a journalist suposedly based on only the opinion of a layman, that the one component in this whole setup, the single layer that was supplied by Microsoft must inevetably be the one to blame?
I'd call that dogmatic reasoning, more appropriate in the metaphysical sector than in forensics, wouldn't you?

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

BMW Owner - thanks for that info. I wasn't really interested in getting a BMW, but now I'll be sure to avoid them like the plague and steer my friends away from them. I'll also be sure to ask the (previously stupid question) - "If the battery dies, can I get out of the car?"

BTW, this shouldn't be about licensing software engineers; in the US the Department of Transportation should take care of this deathtrap issue.

As we're entering flood season in the US, stand by for a "man drowned in BMW" story.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

I first thought it was one of the elephant BMWs, the one with the brain-dead i-drive button. It wasn't, which does not mean that the people who designed i-drive shouldn't go to a course on designing interfaces.

I think it's refreshing to see how bad such a big company with so much experience can screw up with a model.

Dimitri.
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The answer to the question "If the battery dies, can I get out of the car?" is "Yes". In a BMW, if the power fails and the doors had been locked from the inside, then you can still mechanically unlock the doors - pull on the door handle once and it unlocks that door, pull the door handle again to open the door. It is only if you use the remote to lock (and arm the alarm if the car has one) that the doors are "double locked" - that is, the inside power unlock button is disabled and the mechanical unlock using the door handle is also disabled. However, this is an "active" system, meaning that it requires (a very small amount of) power to keep it in this state. (The owner's manuals and the dealers warn you not to leave anyone in the car when you lock it with the remote.) Presumably, even if the remote has been used to double-lock, if the power fails (or the battery is disconnected by someone if they can get to it), then the door locks will revert to being mechanically unlockable from the inside.

I think the Thailand story was a freak incident. I'm sure that if anything like this had ever happened in the US, it would have been big news already.

Another BMW owner
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

"It amazes me how everything somehow becomes Microsoft's fault to many people."

It shouldn't.  They are the shoddies programmers on the planet.  Wake up an smell Bill Gate's yet unpaid for coffee.
http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/28/30679.html

MIke
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

"They are the shoddies [sic] programmers on the planet.  Wake up an [sic] smell Bill Gate's yet unpaid for coffee."

Enough said really.

Anon.
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Quoting the Register as if it's AP wire. hehe. This just in M$ Sucks.


Life hammer?
No thanks -  http://www.maglite.com/
Good for smashing teeth.. I mean windows.

trollbooth
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

I have a relative that is a mechanic... he recently left Mercedes on part because of the complexity of their systems and the strong possibility of them moving to a 36v system to power their ever more complex electronics. He has a ton of stories on things that can go wrong with these new systems, most of them just annoying.

The new Mercedes have an anti-theft feature where all four now electric disk breaks will be engaged when the alarm goes off, effectivly you now have to drag a very heavy car to move it. While he has never heard of the breaks engaging when being driven, he has heard of them not disengaging. The computer needed to be hard-reset and re-imaged in the factory but only after they found a tow truck powerfull enough to pull the car up with all four breaks locked. So imagine if you get into your own car set off the alarm by mistake while being car-jacked or something and the car can no longer move, seems like a real problem there.

The other fun one that amazes him is that they have a feature where the velocity of the air bag is calculated with a series of sensors in the seat that tests for position, weight etc of the driver to decide if the velocity of the airbag needs to be reduced. Well what happens is the sensors fail over time and the system enters into a default mode it just fires at the max safe speed which is based on a typical sized human. It never tells the driver this happened so here you are you just spent 150k on an extra safe car for your wife and it is degrading itself.

I also had an Audi A4 shut off on me before. I was driving down the highway at 70+mph and silence it just went dead, no power stearing, no power breaks, no hazards, no blinkers. Some brute force and a hell of a lot of luck got me and the car into the sholder. Had the car towed, no problem found, they replaced some parts that might have caused the problem. A month or so later same problem. The car was replaced and sent back to wherever it was made for testing. Later that year I got a follow up letter later saying that an obscure voltage problem was found to be the cause and it had caused a soft reset of the computer and that my replacement A4 was not suseptible to this problem due to a change in the electronics between the version I had and the one they replaced it with.

So now I see a story where this happened and it does not supprise me at all. These cars are getting so complex it is simply amazing that more does not go wrong.

Jeff
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

I still don't understand why you would design the car to have no internal override for the lock.  Even if you do lock it with the remote and arm the security system... what is the justification for making people *inside* the car unable to get out?  The only thing I can think of is they didn't want someone to be able to use a coat hanger to pull the handle.  Even if that is a concern (seems to be going a bit far IMO), you could still have a manual override in the glove compartment or something.  Someplace that would be easily accesible to a person in the car, but would not pose a risk in terms of someone breaking in.

As for MS.  Whether you like their business practices or not, claiming that they are some of the worst programmers in the world is absolutely false.  MS hires extremely talented people.  And quoting The Register isn't going to get you points with anyone who is interested in reliable news.

Mike McNertney
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Aren't these "no way out" designs in place so you can actualy immobilize car thieves until the cops are there?

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Dear Mike,
                There are plenty of problems with "The Register", such as increasing  lack of imagination or originality, but the reliability of its news is not one of them.

                Can we perhaps have some hard facts as to when "The Register" has got it wrong on facts - as opposed to expressing opinions you don't agree with?

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Stephen,

Just check out the article for an example of their lack of reliability -- they have a nice addendum in which they essentially say "oh, well, yeah.... this might not really have happened."

Nonymouse
Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Stephen,

please tell me you are just trolling here. The Register, accurate information? Come on. This is the sleezebag rag of IT. They'll print anything for a few hits. The whole site is basically a troll.
The number of times they had to retract stories in the "well, we have to admit none of it was true, but it is still interesting no?" way is beyond counting.
Another tactic  they frequently employ is first write a story that speculates "what if so and so would do this and that", and to days later they write a second article going "rumour has it (yeah, their own rumour) that so and so did this and that", then a few days later "there can not be smoke without fire".
Djeez man, don't fall for this fluff.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I've been checking out "The Register" every day for three years. I have almost never come across an inacurate report. Sure, it will report inacurracies that others say, but considering how ferocious British libel laws are it wouldn't be in business if it regularlly defamed companies or individuals. Sometimes there will be smoke without fire, but considering the number of articles a day that is going to be inevitable.

So Just me, once again I repeat my request - clear examples of inaccurate information please.Prove you are not  "the sleezebag troll of IT"  :)

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Dear Nonymous,
                          The story might be "trivial and pointless" but I see no reason to doubt its accuracy.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, May 14, 2003

"Prove you are not  'the sleezebag troll of IT'"

But I am, which is why I get so annoyed by them invading my turff ;-).
No seriously, I could not give you an example since I stopped reading that site, ow, I guess about two years ago.
I realy felt at the time their "information" was beyond bias and straight into the teritory of outright lies, and that was the basis for my decision to just ignore them. I guess that by htis unsatisfactory answer I am failing the board, but I realy can not bring myself to go digging into that cesspool again. Just can't be bothered.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, May 14, 2003

It's actually got a lot worse in the last year or so, in the sense that it seems simply to be acting as a clearing house and the better writers seem to feature less.

I suspect you are taking it too seriously. Remember; the right tool for the right job!

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, May 14, 2003

mmm all this seems weird...

i think Door locks work with a relay... not a computer...

and most German cars run on a BOSH MOTRONIC system wich worked good for years ........

Nicholas Franks
Thursday, May 15, 2003

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