It is ironic that when we discuss autonomous cars, what we are actually talking about is a vehicle that is incredibly connected to its environment. In order to allow for autonomy, the car must be “networked” to communicate with the road, other vehicles and traffic control devices that would allow perfect traffic flow and perfect safety for the passengers of those vehicles. Would only have autonomy because of its connections.
Of course, the risk of connections is that someone or something that should not be connected will enter a system, frequently with malicious motives. As has been demonstrated by the Target and other hacking incidents, large, sophisticate entities that one suspects have robust security systems have fallen prey to dangerous incursions.
Vehicles are not yet connected to the degree that they are autonomous, but that does not mean they are not at risk to hacking threats. Computers control most of the core functions of a vehicle and it is not difficult to imagine the carnage that could result if someone hacked into those systems and turned off the air bag or engine, or caused the brakes to randomly engage.
A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Toyota, Ford and GM, alleging that systems currently operating in vehicles are insecure and that auto manufacturers have misled consumers concerning the risks posed by these system.
Whether or not the plaintiffs in this suit can proceed, given their claims of loss of value given that most people seem unaware of the risks, but a report from a U.S. Senator suggests that most of these systems are unprotected.
Unless that quickly changes, it seems unlikely that we will have to wait too long before someone attempts to hack the system and fatal car accidents are the result of such hacking.
Forbes.com, “The Connected Car Faces Its First Class Action Lawsuit,” Doug Newcomb, March 31, 2015