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The Volkswagen pollution monitor defeat device.

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The Volkswagen pollution monitor defeat device.

Old 21st Sep 2015, 21:00
  #21 (permalink)  
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Quite. Just how did it know it was being tested?
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Old 21st Sep 2015, 21:23
  #22 (permalink)  
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Looks like another nice little earner for the US Treasury, following on from BP and the Banks.

Never mind those who actually suffered.
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Old 21st Sep 2015, 21:30
  #23 (permalink)  
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Just how did it know it was being tested?
Welcome To The Internet Of Cheating Things

There have been a number of stories on Techdirt recently about the increasing use of software in cars, and the issues that this raises. For example, back in April, Mike wrote about GM asserting that while you may own the car, the company still owns the software that runs it. You might expect GM to come out against allowing you to modify that software, but very recently we reported that it had received support from a surprising quarter: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA had a particular concern that engine control software might be tampered with, causing cars to breach emissions regulations. We've just found out that the EPA was right to worry about this, but not for the reason it mentioned, as the The New York Times explains:
The Environmental Protection Agency issued [the German car manufacturer Volkswagen] a notice of violation and accused the company of breaking the law by installing software known as a "defeat device" in 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from model years 2009-15. The device is programmed to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and to only turn on full emissions control systems during that testing. Those controls are turned off during normal driving situations, when the vehicles pollute far more heavily than reported by the manufacturer, the E.P.A. said.
So, just as the EPA feared, software that regulates the emissions control system was indeed tampered with, though not by reckless users, but by the cars' manufacturer, Volkswagen (VW), which must now recall nearly half a million cars, and faces the prospect of some pretty big fines -- Reuters speaks of "up to $18 billion". The EPA's Notice Of Violation (pdf) spells out the details of what it calls the software "switch":
The "switch" senses whether the vehicle is being tested or not based on various inputs including the position of the steering wheel, vehicle speed, the duration of the engine's operation, and barometric pressure. These inputs precisely track the parameters of the federal test procedure used for emission testing for EPA certification purposes. During EPA emission testing, the vehicles' ECM [electronic control module] ran software which produced compliant emission results under an ECM calibration that VW referred to as the "dyno calibration" (referring to the equipment used in emission testing, called a dynamometer). At all other times during normal vehicle operation, the "switch" was activated and the vehicle ECM software ran a separate "road calibration" which reduced the effectiveness of the emission control system (specifically the selective catalytic reduction or the lean NOx [nitrous oxides] trap.) As a result, emission of NOx increased by a factor of 10 to 40 times above the EPA compliant levels, depending on the type of drive cycle (e.g. city, highway).
That trick was discovered by the West Virginia University's Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines & Emissions when studying the VW vehicles. Initially, VW claimed that the increased emissions were due to "technical issues" and "unexpected in-use conditions." But further tests confirmed the problem, and eventually VW admitted "it had designed and installed a defeat device in these vehicles in the form of a sophisticated software algorithm that detected when a vehicle was undergoing emissions testing."

It's significant that the trick was discovered through extensive mechanical testing. Assuming some form of DRM was employed, it would not anyway have been possible to spot the cheating algorithm of the emissions control code because it would have been illegal to circumvent the software protection. This emphasizes once more the folly of allowing the DMCA to apply to such systems, where problems could be found much earlier by inspecting the software, rather than waiting for them to emerge in use, possibly years later.

The revelation about VW's behavior once more concerns code in cars, but there is a much larger issue here. As software starts to appear routinely in an ever-wider range of everyday objects, so the possibility arises for them to exhibit different behaviors in different situations. Thanks to programming, these objects no longer have a single, fixed set of features, but are malleable, which makes checking their conformance to legal standards much more problematic. When the VW story broke last week, Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, tweeted that this was an example of "The Internet of cheating things." I'm not sure whether she coined that phrase -- I'd not seen it before but it encapsulates neatly a key feature of the world we are beginning to enter.
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Old 21st Sep 2015, 21:48
  #24 (permalink)  
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Quote:- 'accused the company of breaking the law by installing software known as a "defeat device" '

I do wonder if the law actually banned code which acted as a "defeat device". If it passes the test then it passes the test, full stop, end of story.

Maybe not nice, but pretty common in many products, and not the worst gotcha out there.

PS I was the poacher turned gamekeeper in my little corner.
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Old 21st Sep 2015, 22:12
  #25 (permalink)  
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If anybody thinks Kim Dotcom is getting a hard time from the US DOJ, wait until they get their claws on this one.

While a German citizen cannot normally be extradited from Germany, foreign travel would be highly inadvisable.
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Old 21st Sep 2015, 22:35
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Various car makers have 'tweaked' their engine control algorithms to optimize the fuel mileage on the EPA cycle over the years - hence the inability on many cars to match the EPA mileage over the years.
But this would be a new - 'detecting' that the vehicle was being testing and running completely different algorithms.

Me thinks criminal charges will be forthcoming along with a record setting fine.
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Old 21st Sep 2015, 23:30
  #27 (permalink)  
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The outcome in all this is the stockholders who will take a bath. After that a few VW stuffed shirts.

Meanwhile the fines will benefit the tax structure, a few people will rightly claim air poisoning aboard aircraft that fly over VWs and global warming will be confirmed.

A win win for many as long as you don't own their stock today.
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 01:46
  #28 (permalink)  
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As a casual observer following late-model diesel VW's - and numerous other European makes of cars - I have to admit that I have been very surprised at the huge clouds of visible black smoke that they emit, under heavy acceleration.
It is a regular feature of these vehicles, it's not a one-off caused by one maladjusted engine.

That visible black smoke is obviously soot particles, and I have no idea on what the chemical make-up of those visible emissions are. Soot particles are as equally undesirable in the air, as the poisonous nitrous oxides emitted by diesels.

These vehicles are supposed to be the cleanest of the clean - but they do not appear to be very clean at all. Perhaps those emissions still do meet the NO2 limits, even though there is visible smoke.

However, under our local current emission regulations, any engine that emits visible smoke for 10 seconds is put off the road as being a serious polluter.
Perhaps the Euro vehicle manufacturers know that it's rare for someone to accelerate heavily for more than 10 seconds - or if they do, it would be rare for them to be spotted at exactly the precise time, by authorities charged with controlling pollution - and thus they reckon they are safe from any pollution complaints.

A likely company statement - "No, our vehicles cannot be creating pollution, we have met all the relevant tests". But they still do pollute, when operating under real, everyday, road conditions.
No diesel should emit anything more than a barely-visible haze of smoke under heavy load, and this has long been a primary aim of pollution regulations.
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 05:00
  #29 (permalink)  
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Once they have sorted out this mess can they please focus on doing something about the ludicrously optimistic MPG figures that are published? Motorists struggle to get anywhere near the frugal consumption they promise and are lucky if they can get 80% of the quoted figures in real world driving conditions.
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 06:52
  #30 (permalink)  
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Originally Posted by Gargleblaster View Post
...One would put the car on rollers like used for measuring braking action, stick a probe into the tailpipe and measure. The ECU would never know that it was being tested.

I am sure that if you had a probe stuck up your tailpipe you would know you are being tested (or at least would hope that's what's happening)
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 07:39
  #31 (permalink)  

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Heard on the radio this morning that Chrysler is connected to this as well. Not sure where the overlap is.
From Wiki
the fourth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee shares a platform with the Mercedes-Benz M-Class.This also includes the Chrysler LX platform vehicles which initially used Mercedes-Benz components since its 2005 introduction.
So MB may also be involved? It's probably industry wide
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 08:11
  #32 (permalink)  
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Is it actually illegal? All ECUs have different modes for varying conditions, presumably only one will be engaged during a test, do the rules state how this has to compare to the other modes and the variation allowed between them?

Secondly, once you own it, you can remap it. There is a sizeable after-sale market in replacement chips to give increased performance - including "stealth" modes to return to standard mapping during servicing to preserve the warranty. If it is legal for the owner to change the settings, is the law different for either the manufacturer, wholesaler or garage?

Is every one who has one fitted committing fraud when submitting their car for an MOT or equivalent?
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 09:38
  #33 (permalink)  

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A journalist friend of mine was flown over the weekend from Dubai to NYC to attend the world press launch of a new car from VW.

The timing could have been a little better (perhaps not from the journos perspective though...).
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 10:10
  #34 (permalink)  
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Optimizing engine management systems for test cycles? Really, what a surprise. So how do end up with official MPG figures for petrol cars.
I do not believe that this is an on/off configuration. Test = on/normal driving = off.
This is optimized for the test cycle, in the same way your EMS will optimize for fuel qualities.
This will anyway be interesting to follow, surprised that VAG is being less than aggressive about it, maybe they do have something to hide.
This issue probably also concerns Skoda, Seat, Audi and Porsche. We'll see.
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 10:49
  #35 (permalink)  
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Eleven million cars are now said to be involved. That works out at more than a whole years production for the entire group, (10.14 million).

How long can Winterkorn hang on?
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 11:22
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I can't help feeling this has all been overblown by the Californian environmental lobby as a form of protectionism. European cars have been selling particularly well in the US in recent years, particularly being marketed as being cleaner and greener than US produced cars.

Many cars have been fitted with a control to switch performance between green, comfort and sports settings. The green, environmentally friendly setting delovers just enough power to get the vehicle moving and sustain a moderate speed on level roads. The comfort setting allows for adequate performance while returning reasonable fuel economy. The sports setting needs to be selected if the vehicle is to perform anything like the manufacturers performance figures, but fuel economy goes out the window.

I suspect that all that has happened here is that a sensor detects when emission measurement equipment is plugged in and sets the engine to run in the greenest setting. Very few drivers will ever use that mode, prefering the performance of the vehicle in comfort or sports settings. But, the vehicle is capable of running in that environmentally friendly mode.

Modern diesel vehicles are fitted with various sensors and devices in the exhaust system to minimise emissions. This results in a build up of soot particles in the exhaust system when the vehicle is used at moderate power because the exhaust doesn't get hot enough to burn thes particles off. This is responsible for the blast of black soot being emitted from the diesel exhaust if you floor the accelerator after a period of slow driving. Diesel exhaust systems actually benefit from periodic periods of being run a relatively high speeds to burn off these deposits. The latest cars have particulate traps that are designed to catch the soot particles and burn them off, similar to the catalytic converter in petrol engine cars. In both cases, high exhaust temperatures are needed for the devices to work properly. So a vehicle that is driven around town constantly at low speeds will never achieve the exhaust temperatures for these emission control devices to work properly. Many diesel drivers have taken to removing the particulate traps in order to improve performance in their vehicles when a better option would be a high speed run along a motorway or freeway to get all the engine and exhaust components up to a decent working temperature.

We have three diesel cars in the family and they all perform slightly better and return improved fuel economy after a long drive. The most economic is a ten year old Renault Kangoo that consistently returns 50mpg driving around the city, but improves to 55mpg after a hundred mile run down the motorway to London. Since I find the fuel economy adequate in a car that has the aerodynamics of a brick and no modern fuel saving devices, I fail to see why more streamlined cars couldn't do a lot better, without all the technical mumbo jumbo. It all looks like a pure marketing exercise and an excuse to soak the poor motorist for more money.

The best fuel economy I ever achieved was on a drive from London to Northern Ireland. Dual carriageway and motorway all the way to Scotland, then fast A roads to the ferry port. I filled the car up on the way back to London and discovered the car was doing 73mpg! This was in a 2003 model Citroen when it was new and the car was being driven at a true 70mph according to the GPS.
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 11:27
  #37 (permalink)  
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Read the fine print ....

Lots of people like to "chip" their cars and bikes, but if you read the fine print you will usually find "For track use only," something like that, on the packaging.

This is going to be a real hum-dinger, if it turns out that VW has, essentially, been "chipping" their own vehicles, and that on a global scale!
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 11:31
  #38 (permalink)  
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HyperChips: ECU Remapping Volkswagen Vehicles
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 11:35
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I don't think diesel smoke emission is always totally as you describe, because I got a great fright two weeks ago when overtaking a juggernaut in my pre-cat TVR, at max revs and throttle, to see in my mirror a great cloud of smoke. After the initial panic, I realised it was actually coming from the 65 registered Audi diesel which was following me through. At that time, the Audi was less than two weeks old, and presumably had filters and no great accumulation of soot in a cold exhaust (it was also dozens of miles of open road driving at the legal limit from the start of its journey).
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 11:49
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I can't help feeling this has all been overblown by the Californian environmental lobby as a form of protectionism.
Protectionism?!?! How many cars are assembled in California? Very very few you say? So please describe what is being "protected."
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