From Total Recall, to Knight Rider, to Batman, it’s fair to say that the public imagination loves a good autonomous vehicle. But what would happen if the Batmobile lost its internet connection mid-adventure, or KIT got hacked by a third party? It might not make the best movie, but it may be a little more true to real life. There is a very real question that remains as to what the potentials of autonomous vehicles are; their strengths, and how we can address their weaknesses. In recent months, many critics have been voicing concerns over hacking, crash decision making and passenger safety. More worryingly, back in 2015 two computer security researchers remotely hacked a Jeep Cherokee’s internet connection and paralyzed it in the middle of a highway.
It’s exciting to think of a car that will direct you to the nearest gas station when fuel is low, stop at your local coffee shop each morning, and even synch your shopping list with your car. The possibilities continue: what if autonomous cars could drive up to gas stations and take payments automatically? In this case, cars will need to be linked up to payment cards: the potential to save time and reduce queues would make this process more than worth the deployment costs.
This all appears realistic, given Amazon’s 300 million users and Jeff Bezos’ 2013 promise to deliver items within 30 minutes of their order. Even now, apps such as Viper SmartStart provide users with a combination of features including ‘remote start’, ‘lock and unlock’, and ‘locate and track your car’. Technology like this demonstrates that we’re not just predicting the appearance of future cars, but hotly anticipating them. Indeed, the future of e-commerce is likely to exclude the driver from delivery services: humans will no longer be needed to undertake such tasks.
Volvo’s auto parking remote control system is an advancement that is turning heads and selling cars. By push of a button “Park Assist Pilot”, users can park their Volvo in a tight parking space that they never would have dreamed about trying manually. Another example is the DroneMobile app, which also allows drivers to start their engine from their smartphone, lock and unlock doors, and receive security alerts if the car is damaged. To further emphasize how far these applications are being developed, companies like WaiveCar are offering rent free cars for a few hours to drive around a moving billboard. They are using technology that allows users to walk up and access the car via an app. It’s easy to picture a world in which connectivity is advanced enough for drivers to do virtually anything they like with personal or rental vehicles without even touching them.
While our sci-fi dreams in terms of autonomous vehicles may appear to be conjoining with reality, we are not quite there yet. Connected cars have vulnerabilities and external parties have attained control of them before. According to researchers, if an internet-connected gadget is plugged into the car, a hacker can gain access to a vehicle’s most vulnerable systems. To solve this issue, companies will need far more cooperation on–and dialogue discussing–security concerns.
Important concerns also remain around connectivity. If a car is not properly connected, its driver could encounter an array of problems. If a payment provider has a website outage, the vehicle may not be able to connect–or even move. Both cars and the websites and their providers need 100% uptime or else buyers are at risk of losing both customers and revenue. The consequences of the product failing to operate correctly can be disastrous for autonomous car manufacturers. If connectivity affects autonomous car passengers on a widespread scale, the negative impact could spark a rapidly-growing trend of online ‘horror stories’. Stakeholders will panic and share prices may drop, all due to an issue seemingly solvable with proper monitoring and testing.
It is very difficult to predict exactly when cars will be fully automated. But in a survey conducted by IEEE, autonomous vehicle experts predicted that rear-view mirrors, emergency breaks, and horns are likely to be removed by 2030, and that steering wheels and brake pedals will be gone by 2035. We better buckle up for the ride, and prepare to welcome increased connectivity with increased testing and monitoring.
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