Implementation of Electromechanical Drive-By-Wire System on Ford Escape; In the Wake of System Failure: Responses to the Boeing 737 Max Disasters

Singh, Vishal, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
JACQUES, RICHARD, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Furukawa, Tomonari, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia


Vehicles today, like automobiles and aircraft, use electronic systems to control
mechanical systems. For example, the Boeing 777 uses Autopilot Flight Director System (AFDS), which controls the aircraft’s altitude to meet navigation requirements and indicates when pilots can manually control the plane (Eismen, 2019). In a growing share of cars, onboard computer systems respond to sensors to apply limited automation to driving (Tummala, 2001). Yet such systems are subject to failure. The consequences were disastrous in the fatal crashes of two 737 MAX aircraft and of semi-automated Tesla automobiles. Assad, Derwort, and Daniell (2020) contend that civil aviation authorities must regulate software in aircraft systems to ensure their safety. The technical report will focus on implementing a drive-by-wire system on a Ford Escape, allowing the steering, braking, and throttle to be controlled externally rather than in the cockpit. The STS research paper will focus on the causes of the Boeing 737 MAX crashes and the responses from the FAA, NTSB, and the House Committee, as well as the Allied Pilots Association and Boeing themselves.

Summaries of the projects- Electronic Control Systems in Vehicles

The technical portion of my thesis produced vehicle controls of a 2008 Ford Escape into drive-by-wire. The capstone team had the steering, braking, and throttle systems controllable by wire by using an external controller, meaning no physical input by the user in the vehicle, instead the inputs came externally. This was done by using a stepper motor to physically press the brake pedal, and sending different voltage signals to the car’s Electronic Control Unit (ECU) and power steering torque sensor to control the throttle and steering, respectively. All the functions were facilitated using Arduino and Robot Operating Software (ROS) through an onboard external computer. Additionally, a feedback system was implemented using the car’s CAN Bus system to ensure the outputs are reflective of the inputs from the external controller as an added safety measure. A sensor suite was also installed on the car, like the LiDAR system, to map the surroundings. All of these functions will pave the way for the car to be fully autonomous in future years.

In my STS research, I focused on the causes of the Boeing 737 MAX disasters of 2018– 19 and how Boeing, federal regulators, and organized pilots competed to influence the response to the crashes. The crashes were caused by failure of the flight software control system, which led to an international grounding of the aircraft, which was rooted in a culture shift within Boeing after acquiring McDonnell Douglas, as well as external pressure from rival Airbus and the development of the A320Neo. Boeing’s crisis management and their negligence to address the issues before the accidents were drawn into scrutiny by governing bodies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the House Transportation Committee and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The FAA found the technical faults on the plane that caused the crash, such as the failure of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The NTSB and the House Transportation Committee found behavioral and economic factors that not only led to the crash, such as limiting simulator training from pilots to cut costs and Boeing assuming pilots would react a certain way in the event of failure, but also faults in the FAA’s certification process that allowed the plane to be certified in the first place, such as conflicted representation between Boeing and the FAA. Additionally, the Allied Pilots Association, called for accountability from Boeing and reassessment from the FAA with regards to the aircraft certification process, as well as giving input on the changes to resume service of the Boeing 737 Max.


The technical project highlighted the use and importance of electronic control systems, and the STS Research project focused on the ethical concerns of electronic control systems, as well as the engineering process as a whole. Researching my STS project highlighted the importance of not taking shortcuts when it comes to safety, which was a primary reason why the feedback loop system was implemented in my technical project. It also stressed the importance of working in a collaborative environment where ideas were respected and concerns were addressed, as the toxic work environment at Boeing played a role in the disasters. All in all, lessons learned from the STS Research paper were used while working on the technical project.

Assaad, Z., Derwort, N., & Daniell, K. A. (2020). Considerations for assuring software systems of Autonomous Aircraft. 2020 IEEE Symposium Series on Computational Intelligence (SSCI). Web of Science.
Eismin, Thomas K. (2019). “The Boeing B-757 Flight Management System.” ch. 17.9 in Aircraft Electricity and Electronics. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education. AccessEngineering.
Tummala, R. R. (2019). Anatomy of a Future Car. In Fundamentals of device and Systems Packaging: Technologies and Applications. essay, McGraw-Hill. AccessEngineering

BS (Bachelor of Science)
drive by wire, ford escape, electromechanical systems, boeing , boeing 737 max, aviation disasters

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Tomonari Furukawa
STS Advisor: Richard Jacques
Capstone Team Members:
Henry Goodman
Jacob Deane
Alex Pascocello
Logan Montgomery
Matthew Deaton

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: