When Toyota Prius owners take their cars to the dealer under the company's latest recall, they'll likely be out of the shop in about 30 minutes. Even though the recall has to do with a problem with the Prius' brakes, mechanics won't have to do much to fix the cars—they don't have to remove the wheels, poke around under the hood, or get near the brakes at all. That's because the flaw in the Prius is not mechanical. It's a software glitch.
The Prius, like other hybrids, uses regenerative braking—when you hit the brake pedal, it repurposes some of the vehicle's energy to charge up the car's battery. In some versions of the 2010 Prius, the code that runs the braking system is buggy. It sometimes lags before applying full stopping power. To fix the error, the dealer simply downloads and installs a new version of the software—pretty much the same routine you'd go through to fix a security flaw in Microsoft Windows.
Does this sound unusual? It's not. Modern cars are loaded with code. By some estimates, new cars contain as much software as desktop PCs, with thousands of individual functions now powered by computers.
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