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Volkswagen Diesel Scandal Logistics Imply Sizable Conspiracy 153

Guinnessy writes with an interesting analysis of the Volkswagen software cheating scandal: Physics Today's Charles Day takes a look at how diesel engines work, and why it's clear it's not just a lone software engineer who came up with the cheat. "...[S]oftware is impotent without hardware. To recognize when a car was being tested and not driven, the defeat device required data from a range of sensors -- sensors that a noncheating car might not need.... Whereas it's conceivable that a single software engineer, directed by a single manager, could have secretly written and uploaded the code that ran the defeat device, installing its associated hardware would require a larger and more diverse team of conspirators," he says.
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Volkswagen Diesel Scandal Logistics Imply Sizable Conspiracy

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  • by mssuxorz ( 1342499 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @08:34AM (#50650571)
    I've worked as a partner for some car companies in both the US and the EU, and I know for a fact that the firmware that goes into their control systems is very tightly controlled, requiring sign-offs from senior execs for design and feature changes. There's no way code this critical could have simply been dropped in by some R&D leads. No. Way.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      At what point does a group of people, perhaps thinking they're working to create something good, but that actually results in something that maybe isn't so good, become a "conspiracy"?

      Let's look to open source efforts like GNOME 3 and Firefox 4 (and later versions). Here we have well-established software products, with many users, and extensive communities built around them. While they'll take outside contributions, stewardship of such projects is quite tightly controlled. Yet at some point, very bad decisi

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Can somebody with mod points please mod up the parent comment?

        It's actually a very worthy comment.

        The abusive mod who downmodded it clearly didn't read it at all.

        The parent comment is:
        - On topic: it's about large scale software development involving many people, just like this VW project.
        - Relevant: it's about how large scale software development projects involving many people can result in bad things happening, just like this VW project.
        - Insightful: it's bringing up ideas about this situation that the art

        • Protip(s): Browse at (-1) and a rogue moderation cannot negatively impact your day.

          Post with a UID and eventually karma. This makes it more difficult to bury your post in (-1) purgatory.

          Don't beg for up mods... makes you smell desperate.

        • Sorry, I never mod cowards up, only down.
      • Obviously fraud (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @09:26AM (#50650717)

        At what point does a group of people, perhaps thinking they're working to create something good, but that actually results in something that maybe isn't so good, become a "conspiracy"?

        The moment it becomes obvious that what they are attempting is impossible and they start looking for illegal ways to circumvent a test. At that precise point they should have stopped and done something else.

        There is no real grey area here where people weren't fully aware of what they were doing and at no time were they under any illusion about the legality. The people who implemented this are professional engineers who knew(or should have known) what the rules were and decided to go ahead anyway. This isn't a piece of consumer software where there are no federal laws involved. This wasn't a piece of software where what seemed like a good idea ultimately didn't work. No, they intentionally and with premeditation committed this fraud. Stop it with trying to excuse what they did.

        • Re:Obviously fraud (Score:5, Insightful)

          by David_Hart ( 1184661 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @09:53AM (#50650841)

          At what point does a group of people, perhaps thinking they're working to create something good, but that actually results in something that maybe isn't so good, become a "conspiracy"?

          The moment it becomes obvious that what they are attempting is impossible and they start looking for illegal ways to circumvent a test. At that precise point they should have stopped and done something else.

          There is no real grey area here where people weren't fully aware of what they were doing and at no time were they under any illusion about the legality. The people who implemented this are professional engineers who knew(or should have known) what the rules were and decided to go ahead anyway. This isn't a piece of consumer software where there are no federal laws involved. This wasn't a piece of software where what seemed like a good idea ultimately didn't work. No, they intentionally and with premeditation committed this fraud. Stop it with trying to excuse what they did.

          I think that you missed the point of the previous post. It could be that many people involved thought that they were adding a performance function. For example, my Jeep has an ECO mode by default but I can change it into Sport mode for better acceleration.

          Granted, at some point it clearly crossed the line. I would say that point was when the wheel spin rate, steering wheel position, etc. were added as triggers. Whoever did that had to know the conditions (i.e. emissions testing) for the trigger to be able to code it properly. But the performance function/mode itself could have started out as a valid feature that they wanted to add to the vehicles. Of course, it all depends on timing. If the triggers were developed at the same time as the performance code then it would be much harder to believe that anyone was innocent. If it was developed separately, then there might be some plausible deniability.

          • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @10:16AM (#50650929)

            I think that you missed the point of the previous post. It could be that many people involved thought that they were adding a performance function.

            I did not miss the point. The point was wrong. They did not think they were adding a performance function. That's not how it this stuff gets developed. They would have known if this idea worked or not before it left R&D.

            Granted, at some point it clearly crossed the line.

            And that is where they should have stopped. No equivocation is necessary. The moment they realized it was illegal/impossible they should have stopped. It was reasonable to try to come up with a clever way to avoid the cost of adding a urea injection system but the would have known if this was feasible before the idea left the R&D lab. Once it got to the production engineers, there is no possible way they didn't know that what they were doing.

            • They may have known, but what was the alternative? Get fired, and in a manner that ensures they will never work in their field again? Or go to the regulator and media, bring down the responsible parties, and get sued so hard their grandchildren will be paying the lawyer bills?

              • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @04:31PM (#50652839)

                They may have known, but what was the alternative? Get fired, and in a manner that ensures they will never work in their field again?

                The alternative is that you don't commit a crime. Why is that so hard to understand? This was FRAUD, plain and simple. If my boss comes to me and asks me to commit a crime so the company will make more money my answer is to gather my personal effects and seek employment elsewhere.

                We are not talking about engineers who lacked options. The auto industry isn't one where they can get blackballed from every working again. These are well paid, educated people who knew (or should have known) what they were doing and decided to commit a crime.

                Or go to the regulator and media, bring down the responsible parties, and get sued so hard their grandchildren will be paying the lawyer bills?

                You can do that OR you can just leave. Either option is better than committing a crime.

              • by sjames ( 1099 )

                That's the more legitimate questions. There is a need to go up the chain. Someone somewhere on that chain applied threats without having threats applied to them. That's where the buck stops.

              • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

                So exposing a plot by executives to falsely inflate their bonuses at the expense of investors would get you fired, hmm, probably not, in fact the exact opposite. Basically a whole swag of liars in on a scam to inflate their bonuses, nothing more and nothing less. The attitude, so what if we get caught, we will keep our bonuses and the shareholders will get fined, bwa hah hah. This is exactly what happens when you put psychopaths in charge of anything.

                • Depends how determined the bosses are. Note that these bosses may even face jail time if their manipulations were ever exposed as intentional, so they have a strong incentive to keep things quiet. I really wouldn't be surprised if somewhere along the line some engineer or middle-manager were warned that some expensive equipment had 'disappeared' and it would be very unfortunate were he found responsible for the theft.

            • It would only really require one or two people to pull this off. All the necessary components are innocent enough. (Also, the idiot who wrote the article is full of bull about "requiring additional hardware".) Components (with innocent purpose):
              * Hardware necessary to detect testing mode: all cars have a speedometer
              * Software to detect testing mode: reasonable to use for internal tests, and on production for traction control
              * Hardware to allow software control of EGR: necessary for efficiency
              * Software to a

              • by DarenN ( 411219 )

                It would be trivial for one guy to write the code to have low NOx during testing, and high efficiency/performance otherwise. However, half the company would have to know they were cheating.

                Actuallly, it wouldn't because the car has to detect when it's in a test condition anyway the way that the tests are run require that the traction control be disabled. So the code changng behaviour because of the test condition is legit. However, the code gaming the thing that was being measured was not. Given that the test condition flag had to be available to other systems (the aforementioned traction control) it could have been a small group that managed this. Probably the R & D group which the depar

            • Wow, not often that I completely agree with a post from someone on my list of foe's.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Son, have you ever worked on any sort of a project that involved more than just yourself and a bag of Cheetos?

          Individual participants on any significant project aren't "fully aware of what they were doing" all the time. That's what happens when the project is big, many highly specialized people are involved, and few people see the big picture.

          That's exactly what the original point was: a lot of individuals making small changes over a long period of time can collectively create something that's generally har

        • Stop it with trying to excuse what they did.

          This is Slashdot - where the impulse is to find a way, howsoever ludicrous or convoluted, to excuse the engineers from fault.

          • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

            > This is Slashdot - where the impulse is to find a way, howsoever ludicrous or convoluted, to excuse the engineers from fault.

            The engineers aren't in charge.

            There's like an entire corporate machine in place to ensure that a lone wolf can't through error or malice can't cause problems. Things like basic software development practices should ensure that bad/stupid things don't go unnoticed.

            What are the practical requirements for implementing this "cheat" with a beaurocracy of this kind?

            • The engineers aren't in charge.

              Doesn't matter. The engineers are responsible for their own actions. They chose to commit a crime when asked and they are just as responsible as anyone else involved. If your management comes to you and asks you to commit a crime and you do anything other that say "no" then you are a criminal yourself. This is not complicated.

              There's like an entire corporate machine in place to ensure that a lone wolf can't through error or malice can't cause problems. Things like basic software development practices should ensure that bad/stupid things don't go unnoticed.

              This wasn't unnoticed. This was done intentionally and there were many people involved including more than a few engineers. We know the engineers knew about it because it appare

              • by Anonymous Coward

                did engineers sold these cars ? no, so why blame them ? they probably made software as required and it ends here, get real.

                • Like sjbe said, this isn't complicated - there's a thing called professional ethics - you do something illegal, you are personally responsible or your actions. And I seriously doubt *anyone* thought the software was being developed only to run on the CEO's private sportscar (where it would perhaps still be illegal, depending on the specifics of the law)

      • by mjm1231 ( 751545 )

        At what point does a group of people, perhaps thinking they're working to create something good, but that actually results in something that maybe isn't so good, become a "conspiracy"?

        I would very much welcome the coining of a word to denote an unintentional conspiracy, as I think they happen more often than people realize.

        This is not one of those cases. Suppose a group of people decided among themselves that robbing a bank would be a good thing. Because they believe it's a good thing, does that mean their planning of the robbery is not a conspiracy?

        When an action is known to be illegal, and one or more people make plans to engage in it, that's pretty much the textbook definition of cons

      • That's why Firefox is now at only about 7% to 8% of the browser market, when it used to be above 30%.

        I think that's laying it on a little thick. You're completely ignoring a concerted and aggressive advertising campaign from the world's largest advertiser for its largest competitor.

      • isn't there a slight difference between producing crappy software and writing code to intentionally and criminaly deceive? i think, that's where the word "conspiracy" comes in.
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        Conspiracy is a loaded word. In the case of Firefox and Gnome, the connotations are likely not warranted at all. We can, however, say in fairness that all decision makers involved are fully deserving of whatever credit or blame the result may bring. In the case of Gnome and Firefox, I would say more blame than credit, and not a small measure of shame. Of course, that does not involve criminal charges.

        The same is true in Volkswagen, the decision makers are all due credit or blame. Here, there is certainly bl

    • There's no way code this critical could have simply been dropped in by some R&D leads. No. Way.

      True. But I think some posters object to the idea that the cheat requires special hardware. The question the article raises is if special hardware was needed to enable the emissions cheat, or was it done entirely in software? Repurposing already existing hardware sensors seems to be the "safer" way to cheat since the sensor would need to be replaced anyway if damaged. A sensor specially designed to detect an emission test should be a bit more obvious to spot since it won't be listed in the manual sent to li

    • The mantra of optimization is you get what you optimize for. It's amazing how that seemingly innocuous phrase is something every person doing optimization has at some point been bitten in the ass by at least twice. Once when you do something stupid as you are learning and once later when the optimization produces some completely perplexing result leaving you in awe of the power of that mantra.

      There was likely no conspiracy precisely because of the difficulty of maintaining the conspiracy at this scale. A

      • Despite my claim that it may have been an accident of optimization I do have an alternative theory. I imagine that the VW designers got up against a deadline. Perhaps the above referenced possibility of an optimization error had actually led them down the wrong track to a point were it was too late, things were tooled, people trained etc... Have to forge ahead. So plan B becomes, well let's fake it to buy some time to build the right engine. they already know how to fake it since they had managed to fool

    • by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @10:50AM (#50651085) Homepage

      I've worked as a partner for some car companies in both the US and the EU, and I know for a fact that the firmware that goes into their control systems is very tightly controlled, requiring sign-offs from senior execs for design and feature changes.

      There's no way code this critical could have simply been dropped in by some R&D leads. No. Way.

      Yeah, but we already know where it comes from. Bosch wrote it for VW supposedly for internal testing. From there it is just an order to leave it on in production.

    • I've worked as a partner for some car companies in both the US and the EU, and I know for a fact that the firmware that goes into their control systems is very tightly controlled, requiring sign-offs from senior execs for design and feature changes.

      There's no way code this critical could have simply been dropped in by some R&D leads. No. Way.

      On a test bed, the front wheels are positioned onto rollers, and the back wheels are stationary. All the software needed to know is if the front wheels are in motion and the back wheels are not. Perhaps as well, some other sensor for when the vehicle is idling. (0 km/hr or 0 mi/hr). That logic bypass could be active when the car is idling.

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @08:36AM (#50650581)
    If you put any thought into this at all, you realize it is a massive conspiracy. Other automakers add expensive, space consuming devices to eliminate NO pollution. These is no way a single programmer could have made a change and all the engineers would go "Look, we don't need all the extra hardware, it passes the test!" Lots of people would notice immediately during the design phase.
    • If you put any thought into this at all, you realize it is a massive conspiracy. Other automakers add expensive, space consuming devices to eliminate NO pollution. These is no way a single programmer could have made a change and all the engineers would go "Look, we don't need all the extra hardware, it passes the test!" Lots of people would notice immediately during the design phase.

      Not really. A manager demands the feature in the software provided by Bosch, who warns him not to leave it in the final production, then they leave it on.

      Not much of a conspiracy, but certainly a very deliberate decision from at least someone high enough to negotiate software deals with partners.

    • If you put any thought into this at all, you realize it is a massive conspiracy.

      I reached the opposite conclusion. The EPA has been investigating this since early 2014, and asked VW to address the problem then. VW issued a recall for a software update to attempt to "fix" the problem in Dec 2014. Now, if it's a massive conspiracy, and they knew the EPA was investigating precisely this issue, wouldn't that software update have been the perfect time to erase the defeat device and cover up any evidence that

    • You have no idea how the architecture of these cars works and yet you're ready to announce that it's all a German industrial conspiracy.

  • Might not need vs does not have is a stretch. I would think all the information to determine if it's being tested or not would just be accessible by some main controller engine API. It seems the sensors needed to tell if it's being tested or not were really basic stuff like finding out if it's moving or not vs how fast it was being driven which could be required by the hand breaking system or a sensor to tell if the steering wheel is moving or not which could be required to turn headlights in the direction

    • When a car is tested for emissions, its drive wheels are usually placed on a treadmill [energotest.eu]. The other wheels are left on the ground standing still. Most cars today have wheel speed sensors for the stability control systems, so brakes can be applied to tires that lose traction. The algorithm to cheat is simple: If the drive wheels are turning at highway speeds, but the car clearly isn't moving at highway speeds, cut the power (and emissions) because the power isn't going anywhere useful.

      • If the test is supposed to replicate driving, I'd expect the rollers to have resistance that would need about the same amount of power to overcome. If I were designing it, I'd use lots of paddle-discs immersed in oil.

        • by jandjmh ( 66714 )

          Good thing you are not designing it - that would be hard to calibrate and monitor. In reality the rollers the car's wheels are driving are connected to a generator and resistor load. That makes it very easy for the test stand to simulate varying conditions (like climbing a hill)

          • Even better. The important thing is that the wheels face resistance, just as they would when driving, and of roughly the same level.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "the hand breaking system"

      Wow, I'd try to stay away from that! Why would they put such a thing on a car?

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      "Might not need vs does not have is a stretch."

      Exactly, and a very large stretch at that. The article doesn't even offer a guess as to what these "sensors that a noncheating car might not need" are. Steering angle sensor - used for stability control. Individual wheel speed - used for ABS. Throttle position - used for drive by wire. What else is needed to tell that the car is being run on a dyno and not the road? EGR control [dieselnet.com] is a common part of diesel emissions controls.

      The author stated "I mention hardwar
  • Stupid (Score:4, Informative)

    by cnettel ( 836611 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @08:43AM (#50650605)

    The linked article makes the point that the sensors and hardware would not be necessary. I think the writer seriously underestimates to what extent a modern car with protection systems will try to juggle different constraints. Things like non-driving wheel rotation (defeated by being on a lab stand) are needed for breaking systems and possibly to some extent to moderate throttle control for stability. Wheel movement patterns are also needed and useful, even if you don't actually have electric power steering.

    Regulating the exhaust gas recirculation somehow also makes sense. You might go totally on and off, but you would certainly want to keep it at a sensible level. You want good acceleration and full combustion of fuel while still not emitting to much nitrous oxides. It makes total sense to me that you might want to design your control system to try to judge not only the current emission levels, but also the overall driving pattern (steady straight ahead, repeated stop and go, etc) with some kind of state machine to try to find the best EGR regulation regime. This requires sensors and ways to regulate the feature.

    My most innocent guess about how something such as this might have happened was an intent to find a good regime that would give nice bursty performance, while keeping nitrous oxides low overall. Progressively, the control regime was pushed until it ended up in the corner where the case of EGR being properly activated under real-world conditions basically does not happen. Some parts of it might even in the end be a bug between the intended state transitions and the actual ones. Like all bugs that give performance that seem too good to be true on the metrics you really care about (fuel consumption and enjoyable driving), no-one investigated.

    Do I think it happened this way? It's hard to say. Probably not. But, in one way, it's even more frightening than an evil conspiracy. It's easy to say "I wouldn't take part in a conspiracy by my employer". It's harder to say "I would never be pressed to write code with goals that could not be fulfilled, eventually find a hack that seemed to work, and maybe ignore investigating why it worked so well"...

  • by Afty0r ( 263037 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @08:55AM (#50650633) Homepage

    Modern cars use a system to stabilise the car in the event that one or more wheels starts to lose adhesion - commonly called things like ESP/DSP/ESC

    The car wants to know when it's on a dyno or other testing device where only one set of wheels move, and the others do not - if this were NOT the case, it would assume that the rear wheels have lost adhesion with the road, and will serious interfere with the power provided to the front wheels.

    So "the defeat device required data from a range of sensors -- sensors that a noncheating car might not need" is totally and utterly rubbish, it likely needs a single line of code like this:

    > if(EngineMode.Test){ ... do something to improve emissions ... }

    Furthermore, many cars may already have a "very low emissions" mode or similar - there may not be a "special" mode specifically for EPA tests which a different profile for timing, fuel injection etc. - the cars computer essentially changes the "configuration" of the engine on the fly, based on driving conditions, driver input, gear, fuel quality, engine feedback etc - and it does all this during NORMAL operation.

    If a "high efficiency / low emissions mode" already existed, then the code could be further reduced to
    > if (EngineMode.Test ){ Engine.PerformanceProfile = LowEmissionsProfile }

    Of course, it's unlikely that there would be a high level language available to engineers to make it quite so readable as above - but hopefully the code illustrates the point.

    FWIW I strongly suspect that the "low emission profile" in place here in VW *IS* a "special" doctored one to fool emissions tests, but the detection of actually being in a test? Probably already existed.

    • Many sports cars have at least two performance settings...Mustangs with their Black key and Red keys for instance. How stupid would that be if it didn't change the performance of the engine? And when you do that for more power, you are undoubtedly going to get worse mileage and emissions.

      So what does the EPA do? Test the cars in "normal" mode and assume that no one will really ever use the "sport" mode? Reality says almost everyone will be in sport mode all of the time.

    • I came here to say something like this, but you've stated the case very well.

      I would add that unless a disgruntled worker or sixteen comes out of the woodwork to reveal he/they knew it was going on, at a major auto manufacturer?

      well, there's your answer: No grand conspiracy existed.

    • by pz ( 113803 )

      I certainly concur that the linked article is nothing more than FUD.

      But I also suspect that the code in question is also not as nefarious as everyone makes it out to be. As you point out, there are many good reasons to be able to detect when a test is happening. As a good engineer, were I to write such code, I'd want to add a failsafe to ensure that the emissions devices didn't somehow get turned off. The test states that all must be turned on, so they damned well better get turned on.

      if (EngineMode.Test) {
      for (i = 0; i LessThan Engine.EmissionsDevice.NumberInstalled; i++) {
      Engine.EmissionsDevice.Enumerated(i).Mode = Enabled;
      }
      Engine.Throttle.Sensitivity = LowSensitivity;
      Engine.Performance = PrioritizeEfficiency;
      Brakes.TractionControl.Mode = Disabled; ... etc ... // OK, we're ready for the test!
      }

      Code like that alon

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        No there are no reasons to "detect a test if happening". The test is to put the car on rollers and "drive" it. It is supposed to mimic driving in the real world. There is no requirement that the "emissions devices all must be turned on" (whatever that means). I hope you are not an engineer.

        • At least in my state of California, the emissions testing systems I've seen when I get my vehicle tested only place one axle on rollers. The other axle is on the ground. During the test, the driven axle spins at up to 65 MPH, while the non-driven axle doesn't spin at all. If the vehicle being tested has features such as ABS or traction control, then the car needs to know that it's on a tester in order to avoid doing potentially dangerous things.

          The problem here is not that the vehicles detect that they're o

    • I've finally registered on Slashdot after over a decade just to vote this up. Having worked as both a heavy duty diesel and passenger car emissions engineer, they didn't need any hardware to accomplish this than they already had. Well, maybe some SCR hardware would have been useful.....
    • Of course, it's unlikely that there would be a high level language available to engineers to make it quite so readable as above - but hopefully the code illustrates the point.

      Actually, most embedded devices these days are programmed using C, C++, Java, JavaScript, or Python [eetimes.com], so they probably did actually have a nice, high level language like this to work with.

    • A few days ago on slashdot this patent ( http://www.google.com/patents/... [google.com] ) on NOx reduction by Volkswagon was referenced. A wikepedia article ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] ) says "A NOx trap is used on the Volkswagen Jetta Clean TDI and the Volkswagen Tiguan concepts."

      TFA references a youtube video ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] ) which references "my 2002 Volkswagen Jetta TDI." the VW diesel "cheats" only started in 2008.

      WIthout facts TFA is rubbish.

    • Since the emissions test is done on a dynomometer, constant-speed portions of the test will have much less speed variation than normal driving. The lack of small accelerations could fool an "honest" emissions control algorithm to spend an abnormal amount of time in an ultra-low emissions mode. Therefore, making the algorithm "completely honest" would require that it know when it was under test and select operating modes which more closely emulate real-world driving conditions.

      The above argument ignores the

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Has anyone fully tested all other cars?

    Not that it's an excuse, but if everyone's doing it, it's a different story.

    Hint: many VW owners already mod their cars illegally, so allow tailgating Priuses to listen to the song of their people.

  • by zenith1111 ( 1465261 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @08:58AM (#50650643) Homepage

    I think the explanation as to why diesel engines create more nitrogen oxides and how the EGR works was simple and on point, but the conclusion not so much. I drive a diesel myself, but it is a 2006 model, it doesn't have adblue injection, my exhaust system only has a catalytic converter and a particle filter (and an EGR, of course). Even though it is an old model, like most cars since then it has more than enough sensors to do what VW did: individual wheel speeds for the ABS, steering wheel angle for the ESC, multiple sunshine sensors, front and rear suspension angles for the headlight height control, multiple temperature and pressures sensors on both the intake and exhaust, multiple flow rate sensors, mass air flow sensors, multiple sensors in the cooling system etc.

    That's why I find the article a bit thin on new information, I'm certain the embedded engineers at Bosch/Delphi/Siemens/etc. could have done that with far less information that a more modern car has.

    Did they all knew about it? Probably. Did they made hardware efforts to cheat? I don't believe it yet, that's the point of cheating, "passing" the test without having to add new hardware, there is plenty of data that can tell you if the car is really moving or in a test chamber.

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @09:08AM (#50650673)

    Anyone who actually works in the auto industry is pretty much certain this wasn't a lone-wolf operation. I know because I've been in the industry myself for a good chunk of my career including right now. This is very much the water cooler talk right now and nobody believes it was just one or two guys. I run a company that makes wiring harnesses and many of our products go into automobiles made by the Big 3. There are WAY too many people and groups involved in the engineering, design and testing and manufacture of these cars for this to be pulled off entirely in secret. While it would not have been known across the company it would have had to have been signed off on by more than a few including engineering, management and probably testing as well.

    This was not done by accident. It was not done by some poor engineer asked to do the cheat on pain of losing his job. This was an intentional and premeditated fraud and it isn't the first time something like this has happened. About 15 years ago a bunch of truck manufacturers including Volvo and Caterpillar were caught doing something similar. Probably won't be the last time we see it either given the amount of money at stake. While I'm sure VW is probably going to try to throw some low level people under the figurative bus, I'd be shocked if this didn't go pretty far up the food chain. Maybe not all the way to the top but probably up to the heads of engineering and R&D at the least. I can't imagine how the engine designers and their management team wouldn't know. This stuff isn't magic and questions would be asked for which there is no satisfactory answer via software.

  • this sort of cheating is- I assume all the car makers are going to get looked at if not by government agencies, by independent interests. We'll see just how far this string of potatoes goes when the pulling starts.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Saturday October 03, 2015 @10:25AM (#50650949) Journal
    I can easily see how it started out as a legitimate piece of work and then got subverted by a small coterie of top level managers and a few on the code development side.

    The auto companies repeatedly test the cars on their test bench. They use specially instrumented engines that collect so much of data on those test cars. Knowing which data was collected on the test harness and which were real road data is a legitimate data for debugging and fine tuning. The amount of data collected (actual valve position, commanded valve position, sensed crank angle, actual crank angle, time fuel injector open, time fuel injector done, blah blah ...) would so copious they might turn off certain data collections under certain circum stances.

    They might have started with a special manual switch on the dash to turn on "test bench" mode. They forget to turn it on a few times, invalidating lots of collected data because "on test bench" field was wrong. Some clever guy suggest automating it. All these would be very legitimate and most engineers on the team would be working on good faith that it is not a cheat device.

    What I am trying to say is "auto detection of test bench run" has a legitimate purpose. They also have so many use profiles. CA air standards profile, Euro air standards profile, China air standards profile, India air standards profile etc. All these use cases are also quite legitimate. All the engineers working on all these projects would be doing work without compromising their integrity or ethics.

    Eventually someone high up had a clever idea to load China/India urea use profile when the car is not on test bench. This work does not involve company wide collusion. It would require very few engineers on the coding side and a few top level managers. They would know what they are doing is implementing a cheat device. They might have even done it as a stop-gap measure intending to correct in a few weeks or few months.

    Some scenario along the lines of ... "Heinz, the air-quality team needs a few more weeks, they are behind, we are going to miss the deadline. But they are close, just a few more weeks. For now let us load India profile when not on test bench, once the air-quality team finishes the project we can quietly restore the setting. Or we have to delay the ship date by a few weeks". "Erwin, are you sure they would be done in six weeks". "Definite, absolutely". "OK I will talk to Walter and Karl. Keep Adolf and Joseph out of the loop. Keep it under your hat, and make sure there is no paper trail".

  • The author did a good job of explaining how EGR reduces efficiency. But it's not clear to me that additional hardware would have been required to make the cheat work.

    Because emissions tests have (up to now) been done on a treadmill, it was necessary for many cars to have a "test mode" already, to prevent problems with electronic stability control systems due to two wheels spinning on the treadmill, while two wheels remained stationary. So test detection would have already been present, for legitimate reas

    • I disagree, as the author didn't seem to understand the reason why gasolene and diesel engines run on different fuels. Gasoline is composed of lighter hydrocarbons to give a higher resistance to compression ignition to reduce knocking, diesel is composed of longer hydrocarbons to enhance ignition by the hot air generated by compression.
  • Whereas it's conceivable that a single software engineer, directed by a single manager, could have secretly written and uploaded the code that ran the defeat device

    Of course is conceivable, but does anybody actually believe that ? You would need to be quite ingenuous to believe that... this is not an obscure open source project with almost no reviews, you cannot "slip" a patch without anyone noticing... moreover, you cannot keep that code for more than 6 years in the revision control system without anyon
    • this is not an obscure open source project with almost no reviews, you cannot "slip" a patch without anyone noticing..

      So, this is the automotive equivalent of systemd?

  • The issue is not that there was hardware included that enabled the software cheat, the issue is that the software cheat enabled not installing hardware (a SCR system).
    While the cheat could have been implemented by a small group, the decision to not install an SCR system was an executive level decision.

    • by Znork ( 31774 )

      It would be quite interesting to know whether the decision not to install SCR was taken before the optimizations were done. Because that actually would be a plausible theory of why this happened that would jive with my experience of the automotive industry.

      If it was basically one asshat manager saying that 'yeah, we're going to do this IN SOFTWARE without using SCR! And save MONEY!", then I can see exactly what happens next. Engineers go "good grief, what an ass, this is going to suck in most cases". Then t

  • Keep in mind that both German state governments and Volkswagen workers have substantial representation on the board, and a lot of input and responsibility for Volkswagen's business decisions. They either knew, or ought to have known, about the emissions fraud.

    The fraud should also have been obvious from the fact that these cars are tested in Germany and other countries as well, and that other manufacturers were unable to match VW's emissions even though VW didn't have any known technology to reduce emission

  • by Anonymous Coward

    While VW has cheated the author simply get things wrong.

    1. The "defeat device" is in software only. There is no magic extra hardware to make things like this happen. No extra sensors were required.
    2. The EGR valve is not a bad thing. Yes, they do cause problems from time to time, especially in diesels. But it is a necessary evil in ALL modern engines. Gasoline engines have EGR valves too. Without an EGR valve, efficiency and emission control would be nigh on impossible.
    3. Removing the EGR valve is not a goo

  • Who wrote the software and who told him to write the software?
  • I am willing to bet that this engineering project was pulled of with a stunningly tiny cast of characters and a minimum of paperwork; which will make for an interesting contrast with the bureaucratic effort that would have been required to create such a "feature" through the regular channels.

    If anything VW should learn from this how to efficiently engineer their cars into the future. But alas they will fire anyone who not only cheated but even worse didn't follow the practices and procedures laid out by
  • VW use exhaust gas recirculation EGR as a core part of their emmisions control http://www.myturbodiesel.com/wiki/egr-system-faq-for-vw-and-audi-tdi/ . This is throttle-able to vary the amount of EGR for different loads and conditions and so can also be essentially shut off by the engine control system.

    There are more then enough sensors on a modern car to sense test bed situations. There are accelerometers for the traction control and airbag systems that can sense lack of real acceleration during apparent ac

    • Yes, I couldn't see a demonstrated need for new hardware or sensors in TFA either.

      The last time I cared about what went on under the bonnet of a car (beyond "why doesn't this run?") was for my second car, in the late 1980s, made with 1970s technology. That had EGR. which I had to get an understanding of, because the line between the EGR valve and the inlet manifold, which used inlet suction to provide the force to allow the recirculation valve to be opened against it's spring had leaked, resulting in a fai

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