General Motors recently announced that it would begin mass-producing autonomous vehicles without steering wheels or pedals by the end of this year.   While many tech companies have already begun testing driver-less vehicles with a driver at the ready, the next generation removes the possibility of human intervention.  While the prospect of a virtual chauffeur seems appealing, there are 3 areas of concern which may indicate that we’re not quite there yet.

Houston, We Have a Problem…

The advent of the personal computer is probably one of the largest technological advances in the last century.  It enables us to take large amounts of data and process it with lightning fast speed.  It provides instant communication through things like email, instant messaging, and other platforms.  It allows everyone to be a broadcaster, publisher, and tv star.   In short, the computer is amazing.  Everyone loves their computer.

That is, until it crashes before you save your data.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of the frozen mouse, the blue screen of death, or the “unknown error” message which, according to the software company, is a hardware problem, and according to the computer manufacturer, is a software problem.  We’ve learned to put up with these types of inconveniences as part of the cost of technology where failure is simply a nuisance, but once this level of technology hits the roadways, there is very little margin for error.  Auto manufacturers have already sent autonomous vehicles cross country with little trouble, sent them into the city, and delivered products without problems.  This is no small feat by any means, but these are all single vehicles interacting with other manned vehicles on the road.  Issues most often arise once multiple systems need to rely on the same data streams and satellites.  Unfortunately, we won’t know how these vehicles will react to each other once there are hundreds of thousands of them on the same road at the same time, all going to similar places.  While the technology will certainly be there soon enough, we’ve got some more testing to do beyond sending single vehicles to various places.

You’ve Been Hacked!

driverless carsThe past several years has seen a serious increase in cyber-crimes and “computer hacking”.   There are millions of attacks on banks, personal websites, credit card accounts, and just about anything which connects to a network to obtain information.  Many attacks go unnoticed for weeks, or even months before the breach is discovered, allowing the attacker to make use of vulnerabilities until the problem is resolved.  The upswing in cyber-crime has already made its way to the auto industry in its current vehicles, to the point where many manufacturers now employ hackers to attempt to disable the car’s system, and they’ve been quite successful in their endeavors.
The industry continues to update their security measures because of these tests.  This is, of course, an uphill battle, since the security system needs to be 100% effective, while a hacker simply needs to be effective once.  A handful of rogue vehicles in rush hour traffic can have devastating results, so updates and security patches must be implemented as soon as a vulnerability becomes apparent.  Unfortunately, most issues become apparent once they’re exploited and have already caused problems.