Toyota Accelerator Pedal Position (APP) Sensor Redux

I am continuing to follow the developments with the issue of unintended acceleration in certain models of Toyota vehicles.

An article appeared today, on the Popular Mechanics website, written by Mike Allen. In it, he makes the following claim:

The benefit of Hall-effect sensors is that … other electronics, such as amplifiers, aren’t needed.

Well, he offers no proof of this. I would bet good money (if I had any) that there is an actual op-amp in the Hall IC. I decided to do more research, in the hopes that someone has taken one of these pedals apart far enough to perhaps get a serial number off one of the pair of Hall ICs. Well, this has not happened yet. And sorry Mike, I do not feel it is wise to let Toyota off the hook quite yet. This is an opportunity for us to grow as engineers.

Regardless, several things have come to light.

First, there was the testimony of David Gilbert before congress. In his testimony, he describes how he was able to spoof the ECU by shorting the signal wire coming from one (or both) of the Hall ICs. He did not provide details in his testimony however. But this is very interesting to say the least!

This lead me to my second and third finds.

Toyota ETCS APP Signal

In the former, we see figure 4 which presents us with a schematic of the APP sensor and a graph of the voltage response. Basically, there are two signal voltages that rise at the same rate as the pedal is depressed. In the latter, we are given by user Zurk a slightly more detailed picture of the operational parameters (voltages) expected by the ECU, including the variances. No references are cited, but it appears to be legit based on the other evidence. Taken together, it is quite easy to see how the supply voltage to the Hall ICs, if shorted to both signals similarly and at the same time, could produce an arbitrary anomalous throttle response. All it would take is an appropriate resistance.

Fundamentally, I still say Toyota made a poor design decision. You have two signal voltages that have VERY similar responses, and you expect the ECU to reject a common failure like a short? Imagine instead if the design had one voltage ramp up while the other drops. In that case, a short would DEFINITELY be picked up by the ECU: both voltages would be “rising” at the same time! Not to mention the magnet creating the signal in the first place is excluded from your redundancy calculation.

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