June 30, 2017

The End of Emissions Control

Filed under: Uncategorized — Benjamin Vulpes @ 4:01 p.m.

"Diesels: reliable startup and operation, high power, and low emissions: pick two".

Every single step along the road to the software-controlled car made perfect sense in its own context, and nobody could have predicted that baking what were once called "general purpose computers" into the automobile would result in the megastate's complete and humiliatinng defeat on the battleground of emissions control. The cascading failure started very small, with (for example) replacing the mechanical fuel injection systems with electro-mechanical ones; moved through a phase where every electromechanical subsystem (such as the motor controllers for the window actuators) was designed and emplaced separately; into the current phase where more or less every system in the vehicle is driven by its own tiny computer, and both dumps data to and reads instructions from the CAN bus.

Automotive computerization is actually a subinitiative of the USG fiefdoms commonly known as "corporations" push to replace real things in the market with erzatz imitations; a race-to-the-bottom that harmonizes gloriously with the symphony of fiat-currency issuing organizations: as exchange rates fluctuate not strictly as a function of how much currency a given country is issuing on an ongoing basis but more accurately as a function of how much more or less currency they issue relative to everyone else playing the same tune, so too do the reputations of once-glorious automotive brands fluctuate not as a function of the quality of goods they produce but as a function of how much more quickly or slowly their product lines' useful lifespan and quality shortens and degrades relative to their competitors; a vastly more difficult analysis for the consumer to make.

Simple products, for example carbonated and fermented corn syrups, achieved uniformity under the hood decades and decades ago in the States. With nothing material to differentiate the product lines, the marketers differentiated on brand: am I a Coke guy or Pepsi guy? Coors Light or Hamms? Trick question; once you incorporate corporate brands into your identity you're just another transmission vector for the mind-rape. Cars, while rapidly approaching the limit of uniformity between brands, are of markedly greater complexity under the hood than sodas and (what passes for) beer, and so demanded rather a lot more work on many more axes in order to give the marketers the hooks they needed to properly differentiate products for the American identity-politics market without costing undue piles to the actual engineering and fabrication processes.

Take engine noise as an example: the relentless market demand for constant improvement in both fuel economy and power output put such constraints on the design of power plants that the once-characteristic engine noise has been flattened out into the same low-waste white noise no matter the manufacturer brand. American marketers didn't mind this in the slightest, as where the drink manufacturers differentiated with various dyes, the car manufacturers differentiated by building speakers into the car so that they could tune both the noise broadcast to the world and that experienced inside the cockpit of the cars to more precisely curate "the brand experience of a Chevy".

German diesel marketers took a mildly divergent approach: instead of trading engine noise for power completely, and fabricating the "driving experience" wholesale with speakers, they worked with engine control unit manufacturers to tune the actual noise produced by the engine on startup. Why not? The startup routine takes no more than thirty seconds at the beginning of every petrol-burning run, has epsilon impact on emissions in the steady state, and so does not affect test-stand behavior sensibly.

With the innocuous ECU-profile-for-emotionally-tuning-the-consumer in hand, is it any surprise someone else in the organization repurposed the underlying routines to bypass witless regulators? Steering wheel position is constantly recorded to the CAN bus, as is that of every other system on the vehicle, all effectors read from the same rail, so why is it so implausible and disturbing that someone should have evaded the States' testing regime by applying a modicum of intelligence?

The notion that one can evade the state bothers millenial Pantsuit acolytes by demonstrating how blind and stupid the US megastate has grown. The laughs don't stop there, though, as the enforcement team only actually managed to track down the test-stand evasion systems by going to the ECU-modifying enthusiasts and asking nicely for dumps of the original software! Enthusiasts who'd already reverse-engineered, modified, and installed the modified control systems back onto their cars for performance reasons and to bypass the selfsame emissions compliance systems.

And so we find a sharp blade each for the jugular and femoral arteries of statal intervention in automotive emissions: a) the individuals and organizations responsible for writing and enforcing the regulations are utterly incapable of doing their jobs without volunteer labor from people who bypass emissions control in their spare time; and b) with the advent of flashable automotive ECU systems there is absolutely nothing preventing manufacturers from dropping cars on lots crippled by easily-removed software in a sarcastic bow to the regulatory apparatus, and nothing the state can do about their "leaking" high-performance engine maps in tandem. In regards to the first shiv, for as long as it is fashionable to be seen talking to cops, and right up until the moment Americans wake up to the notion that the entire control apparatus hinders self-determination and benefits only the criminal organization the once-modest United States Government has metastasized into, the bureaucracy may continue to find support among the people most well-equipped to castrate it and not a day past that point. In regards to the second, absolutely anyone can kick their engine controller into high-performance, high-emission mode as soon as they drive the vehicle off the lot, and with zero damage to the system replace the original software in the blink of an eye for inspections, switching back as soon as the inspector passes out of sight.

Expect to see a mandate that all cars with computers run Windows on chips with "trusted computing modules". Expect it also to never work.

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