Some Seattle-area Mazdas have media systems bricked by a radio transmission

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Every car forum has threads devoted to broken infotainment systems. As vehicles pile up with the technology controlled by infotainment systems, it’s inevitable that every automaker will have their time in the spotlight – or the courts – to tackle the myriad traps hidden in mammoth amounts of code found in the average modern car. Now it’s Mazda’s turn, but only for select Mazdas from the 2014 to 2017 model years, and only those in the Seattle area that National Public Radio station can pick up KUOW.

A Seattle Times piece explains that something in the HD radio signal that KUOW transmits is almost bricking the infotainment systems in these vehicles. The common thread is that after the incendiary incident, the radio only plays KUOW. And since the screen only plays the Mazda wake-up animation repeatedly, owners will no longer be able to access their navigation, Bluetooth, rear view camera and vehicle information.

No one believes it is an NPR conspiracy. Yet. The Seattle Times spoke with a few owners, a few dealers, Mazda and Xperi, a company that makes the software that runs HD radio. Mazda pinpointed the culprit when the station sent image files without an extension, say for an album cover, which Mazda’s media software tries and fails to process, with tragic results. Mazda did not say why this problem only occurs in the affected model years, nor why this particular software cannot work around a file extension error that has existed as long as there are files.

It’s such a story that you could shake your head and a tragic laugh for the unlucky, and then look at your car outside and wonder, “How long will it take you to do this to me?” The little snafus seem more likely every day since we weren’t kidding about the amount of software in today’s cars. Way back in 2009, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers wrote, “It takes dozens of microprocessors executing 100 million lines of code to get a premium car off the driveway, and this software is only going to get more complex.” That’s about four times the amount of code needed to operate the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, nearly 70% more than all the code running on Facebook. This was before the all-out race for driver comfort features, vehicles becoming digital hubs, and the industry’s quest to catch up with consumer electronics software cycles. Imagine how many rules have been put together in 13 years and how many will follow (level 3 autonomy, anyone?).

But before you do that, check out the Seattle Times story. And kudos to Mazda for stepping up care for the affected vehicles as everyone tries to figure out what’s going on.

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