Charlie Long is an electrical engineer working for a major automobile company in the
year 2010. He works in the automatic sensors department, and his job is to design and test
electronic sensors for use in different parts of cars.
The latest version of the Lightning-100 was recently launched into the national market,
equipped with an electronic sensor crucial to an innovative safety feature of the vehicle.
This sensor was designed and tested by Charlies department. The Lightning-100's
major competitor equipped its comparable model (the Bolt-80) with a somewhat similar
sensor two years before, and it apparently was effective in reducing the number of
fatalities in head-on collisions.
Convinced that they could quickly come up with a design for an electronic sensor to
match the Bolt-80's, Charlies department committed to preparing one in time for the
2010 Lightning-100 model. Unfortunately, the design challenge proved to be more formidable
than they expected, and they fell behind schedule. At the same time, they were under
pressure to have something ready for the 2010 model. This, they were told by management
and marketing strategists, could be the key to competing successfully with the Bolt-80.
So, time was short, and Charlies department could delay its recommendation no
longer. Although the prototype was not subjected to as rigorous testing as usual,
Charlies department recommended a go-ahead. Charlie was uncomfortable with this
decision. He objected that more testing was needed on sensors that served an important
safety function. But he was overruled, and he pressed the issue no further.
Several months after the Lightning-100 was on the road, a disturbing set of data
emerged. An unusually high percentage of collisions resulted in the serious injury or
death of passengers in the Lightning-100, much higher than similar collisions involving
As Charlie thought about this, he realized that the problem could lie in the new
electronic sensor. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) decided to
do a detailed study of the Lightning-100. Although it could not determine the precise
nature of the problem, NHTSA found that, for some reason, the new electronic sensor was
not functioning according to the design. All the new Lightning-100s would have to be
recalled as soon as possible in order to correct the problem.
Charlie reexamined the design. Suddenly he realized that there was a very specific
design flaw. He was not sure why this realization had come to him--it would not be
obvious, not even to experienced electrical engineers. But there it was, staring him in
the face. Further testing might have revealed this earlier, but there had not been time
Meanwhile, many expensive lawsuits are being filed against Charlies company. With
whom, if anyone, should Charlie share what he has learned? Discuss.