President’s Message: CDR Summit 2014

Mar 3, 2014 by

This January, I had the opportunity to travel to Houston for the annual CDR Summit, a three-day conference dedicated to educating the various automotive “Black Box” constituencies.  We heard from representatives of Bosch, several Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), as well as companies deeply involved in CDR training.

For you readers who are not familiar with CDR technology, let me give you a brief review.  Roughly three decades ago, automakers added airbags to the safety equipment option list.  Now if you were the CEO of GM in those early days, and a group of engineers told you that they wanted to install an explosive device 18 inches from the face of every one of your customers, wouldn’t you be somewhat skeptical?  How do you know when to set it off or when not to?  How do you keep from killing people with your “safety device”?

The answer was the Airbag Control Module (ACM).  This was basically a small computer that read sensor inputs, made calculations, and then, when appropriate, commanded the airbags to deploy, thus potentially saving the customer’s life.  The calculations had to be quick, and there was precious little margin for error.  The engineers carefully monitored many test crashes with deployed airbags to verify that their product was performing as they had designed.  An integral component of the ACM is the Event Data Recorder (EDR), which captures specific parameters from a deployment event and saves them for later transfer to a computer for analysis.

The transfer or imaging process uses a Crash Data Retrieval (CDR) tool.  This tool was made by a company called Vetronix, which was the only company GM used for this function.  This data retrieval became part of the quality control process to verify proper functionality.

While GM was the leader, it didn’t take long for other OEMs to also adopt airbag technology.  It also didn’t take long for them to form the same exclusive Vetronix relationships.  Fast forward a few more years and the multinational giant Bosch bought Vetronix and rebranded the equipment with the Bosch name.  As a sidelight, Bosch was also one of leading manufacturers of airbag control modules, so they were no strangers to the game.

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Along the way the federal government also got involved. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ruled that if a manufacturer installs an airbag that stores crash data, then it must be commercially downloadable (such as using Bosch equipment and not just dealer equipment), and that the data must conform to specific standards.  This was codified in 49 CFR 563.   There are 15 specific data elements that must be captured, along with specifications for precision and accuracy.  Generally, each time an OEM signed up with Bosch, they covered models from then forward, but occasionally they provided backwards compatibility as well.

The current list of covered models that can be downloaded by the Bosch tool includes:

Acura, Buick, BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, Geo, Holden, Honda, HSV, Hummer, Infiniti, Isuzu, Jeep, Lancia, Lexus, Lincoln, Maserati, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Oldsmobile, Opel, Pontiac, Ram, Rolls-Royce, Saab, Saturn, Scion, SRT, Sterling, Suzuki, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo

Perceptive readers may point out two missing OEMs: Kia and Hyundai.  Why aren’t they on the list? Well, the Korean auto giants decided not to go with Bosch, instead they went with a different vendor, Global Information Technology (GIT), (a company with ties to Snap-On).  This was a real disappointment to the thousands of owners of the Bosch kit.  Instead of a $150 a piece for a new Bosch cable to connect to Kias and Hyundais, they now need to spend several thousand dollars with GIT to be able to download Kia or Hyundai vehicles. GIT’s device that goes between the vehicle and the laptop looks like a scan tool and there are a half dozen different cables required to cover all the possibilities.  Additionally, the Kia device cannot be used on a Hyundai, nor can the Hyundai device be used on a Kia, so the well prepared accident reconstructionist must purchase two separate hardware devices at about $4,000 each.

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So how do the Bosch and GIT EDR downloads compare?  Here are five differences that stand out.

First, Part 563 does not require a vehicle identification number (VIN) be either input or read by the software, so GIT ignores the VIN.  The Bosch software requires a VIN, then selects the data translation program based upon that VIN, and displays the VIN in all reports.  Put in a bad VIN and the software will not run. The GIT software has no VIN input. So someone downloading more than one Kia on the same day needs to be very careful to keep track of which report applies to which vehicle.

Second, Part 563 does not require any security measures for the output CDR report.  Bosch creates a report in a proprietary file format that will not run if later altered or modified.  GIT creates a report in an Adobe pdf file format, which is not a secure file format.

Third, the GIT software version is not displayed on the report.  So if an update is later issued, a report reader would not know if they have the latest version or not.

Fourth, with Bosch, when there is a software update, you can open an earlier file version with the updated software and re-run the report.  With GIT, you cannot re-run a file.  You have to re-connect the hardware to the vehicle/module and repeat the download process.  Of course, this assumes the vehicle/module is still available.

Lastly, the GIT software requires the user to select the make/model and then run the download. One of the topics extensively discussed at the conference is what happens if you select the wrong one?  After much testing, the answer is that in many cases the software will still run, and will generate a report.  Of course the results of the data translation program may or may not be accurate.

To summarize, the Kia/Hyundai downloads satisfy the Part 563 requirements, but we can expect a lot of evidentiary challenges when the reports eventually make their way into the courtroom.   So, will this ever affect you?   Only if you are in anyway involved in a Kia or Hyundai accident.

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