Crash: Toyota’s Closed Data System

Did you know that your car has a blackbox similar to airplanes? Most car companies use an open platform that allows this blackbox data to be downloaded and analyzed in order to aid investigations.  In the February 22nd, 2010 issue of Newsweek, Matthew Philips reported that Toyota uses a closed data system. Unfortunately this article is not online so I cannot link to it, but it is on page 12 of the current issue.

The article gives no indication whether or not the data is encrypted or encoded. It is my guess that it’s an uncrypted proprietary format. To me it seems unlikely that Toyota would go though such efforts to protect/encrypt data that they claim is not designed for accident reconstruction but namely intended to “aid research on safety systems such as airbags.”

Given the Toyota recall, we see the double edged nature of closed systems: on one hand, the data is protected from eyes outside Toyota; on the other hand, the lack of transparency (and non-compliance with industry open standards) leaves it vulnerable to attack by the larger justice system for being potentially negligent about the technical malfunctions that leads to a higher crash rate.