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In a perfect engine, oxygen
in the air would convert all hy- drogen to water, and fuel carbons to carbon dioxide – but in reality, engines emit several types of polutants.
Motor vehicles are responsible for
nearly 50% of smog-forming compounds, more than 50% of acid-rain con- tributing nitrogen oxide, and account for 75% of carbon monoxide emissions in US.
The Clean Air Act of
1970 gave the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate motor vehicle pollution, which gave the agency authority over pollution control standards for the automotive industry.
However, while the EPA created
the standards, automotive companies were left to self-regulate through corporate social responsibility practices in order to create sutainable business models.
According to New York Times,
in 2008, VW discovered that the new “clean diesel engines” it spent years developing would fail US and EU modern air quality standards by significant margins.
To clear their pollutant-vomiting cars
through testing, VW installed “defeat devices” in their diesel cars, including Skodas, Audis, and commercial VWs totalling roughly 11 million in number, from 2009 onwards.
Modern cars have several software
and hardware computing elements which sense, read, and calculate various metrics to make thousands of small, continuous adjustments to the vehicle.
The “defeat device” was a
specialized software which read steering wheel position, tire rotation, atmospheric pressure, duration of engine run-time, etc. to determine if car was “on-road” or in “emission testing”.
If the software determined that
the car was be- ing tested for emissions, it would increase the amount of fuel being burned in the engine, and so lower nitrogen oxide pollutant emission levels.
The company is facing roughly
$37,500 in US federal fines per vehicle for the roughly 482,000 cars sold in the country – bringing a whopping tally of $18 billion to be paid.
The German manufacturer, which had
recently become the largest automotive company in the world, has put aside $7.3 billion for expenses relating to this fiasco, though preliminary data suggests that this figure may be grossly inadequate.
Class-action lawsuits from car owners
already underway in US against Volkswagen, on grounds of misrepresentation of vehicular performance, breach of contract, increased fuel costs for drivers, and heavier depreciation of vehicular value.
Copyright office considering making an
exception for automotive software, so independent researchers can check software for future cheats and vulnerabilities, but EPA ironically just opposed that exemption, according to The Verge.
“So long as the DMCA
hinders or chills law- abiding researchers from casting their eyes on code, more bugs – and insidious code – will end up in the devices we trust our livelihoods and lives to.” Sherwin Siy, VP of legal affairs at Public Knowledge to The Verge.