Everybody and their brother is salivating at the thought of connected and autonomous car technology. The cars of tomorrow will communicate with each other and with transportation infrastructure to speed drivers quickly and safely from place to place. They will create new business opportunities as people give up owning private cars and participate in ride-sharing and ride-hailing services instead.
In theory, congestion in cities could be slashed by up to 90% because one fully utilized autonomous car does the work of 10 traditional cars. People will be able to turn commuting time into productive time once they no longer need to keep eyes on the road (… even though we know 98% of them will use that extra time to take selfies or play solitaire on their digital devices). Injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle collisions will be significantly reduced because self-driving cars simply won’t get into road accidents in the first place (we hope).
Carmakers like Tesla paint a portrait of an autonomous car future transportation that positively glows with promise. It reminds one of the Steely Dan song about the wonders that would flow from the first International Geophysical Year. “What a beautiful world this will be. What a glorious time to be free.”
Cyber Security Is An Illusion
Are there any holes in this scenario of wonderment? Yes, in fact, there are. Cyber security, as we learned during the last election, is fraught with danger. Even apart from international intrigue, hackers are routinely able to break into the data systems of large banks and retailers and cart off millions of customer records. Identity theft is big business. And computers, despite their many virtues, sometimes fail.
“Once a vehicle connects to the Internet, it is hackable,” says Yoni Heilbronn, chief marketing officer for Argus Cyber Security in Israel. “A vehicle has multiple penetration vectors, with 100 million lines of software code and an average of 10,000 known software bugs in it when it rolls out of Detroit or Stuttgart.” Hardly comforting words, are they.
In Search Of The Goldilocks Solution
The Senate Commerce Committee is holding hearings about this issue as it considers legislation that would establish connected and autonomous car standards. The auto industry is urging Congress to act so there is one uniform set of rules that apply nationwide. Having to deal with 50 sets of rules in 50 different states would delay the process dramatically. But they don’t want Congress to make the rules too burdensome, either.
“We think the best way to realize your objective is to have a dynamic approach,” Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers, told the Commerce Committee. “Our fear is that standards would become obsolete very quickly.” There is some truth to that. Regulations tend to lock down the process to a particular date and time. Once rules are in place, they are hard to change as new innovations emerge. Older readers may remember it took the federal government about 40 years to overturn the mandate that all cars sold in America have sealed beam headlights.
Self Regulation = No Regulation
But there is another side of the coin, according to Senator Ed Markey. “History shows that with airbags and with seat belts, unless there’s a mandate, it’s just not [happening]. Unfortunately, the industry moves slowly. The best players move voluntarily, the worst players don’t. And the worst players are the ones that cause all the damage out on the highways. You can’t just leave it up to any one manufacturer to do it,” Markey added. “You need to have every one of the players accepting that as a responsibility. Otherwise the streets won’t be safer. These vehicles will be hacked.”
It’s not all about automotive safety. Connected cars will store a lot of personal information onboard about their owners — credit card information, email and contact list data, and social media passwords, to name just a few topics. “We should not have to choose between being connected and being protected,” said Senator Markey. He added that federal standards should be dynamic and constantly upgraded.
Greed Is Not So Good After All
Legislation is expected to be filed later this year that will establish the ground rules going forward. Some will moan about government regulations always gumming up the works, increasing the cost of doing business and limiting job growth. But leaving it to corporations to self regulate hasn’t worked out too well in the past. From Enron to Lehmann Brothers, the age-old curse of greed has overcome good intentions every time.
Source: Automotive News