Recently, I was reading a newspaper article about how insurance companies are using “telematics” to adjust your premiums when it occurred to me just how powerful automotive tracking technology has become.
The article I read described how insurance companies are able to monitor your driving habits to determine how safe of a driver you are and then charge you accordingly. The newspaper article doesn’t go into too much detail on what information is collected or how it is managed or manipulated in order to determine the final bill. It does, however, mention “Big Data” analytics is used to help but few details were given. That article got me thinking…
The insurance industry isn’t the only place that vehicle based monitoring is headed. VMT or “Vehicle Miles Traveled” may in the future be used to generate tax revenue for paying for roads and infrastructure. For example, lawmakers in Oregon are trying to pass a GPS based mileage tax, as well as San Francisco and there are numerous studies trying to determine if a VMT is a good idea.
A technology that is being pushed by the insurance industry is the concept of “black boxes” or Event Data Recorders (EDR) for your vehicle, which will record the last few seconds of data before a crash. And as society moves toward safer roadways, we need a way to monitor everyone including Truck Drivers, Employees and teen drivers.
There are many more applications where the automotive industry is moving into a more interconnected direction, with built-in GPS, Satellite and Cellular communication, WiFi hotspots in the vehicle as well as blue tooth connectivity. Cars and trucks will soon be an extension of you, as much as smart phones are now. You will be taxed, fined, monitored, governed, restricted, and charged based upon when and where your vehicle has travelled.
Infrastructure has steadily been put into place to make this more and more likely. We now have toll road technology that allows us to drive right past the toll booth without stopping to dig out loose change from the console. Automated license plate readers are able to automatically read your plate and scan various government and law enforcement databases to determine if your registration has expired, if there are any outstanding arrest warrants or if you are just a “dead beat dad.”
Technology is coming that will allow cars to automatically adjust to the traffic around them by communicating with the computer systems in the other vehicles to “negotiate” speed and direction. That same technology, which is being actively developed, will eventually lead to “driverless” cars.
So what does this tracking mean and why is it important to us?
Well, first off all of this technology will be running software, millions and millions of lines of code that may or may not be securely written. Currently, the car manufactures are way behind the curve when it come to securing their product. And we know this because hackers are just now beginning to focus their attention on the automotive industry. Just recently at the BlackHat and DefCon security conferences there were several high profile talks were given that covered how to attack the hardware in the cars today. I found these two particularly interesting; Hackers Reveal Nasty New Car Attacks–With Me Behind The Wheel (Video), Car hackers: Researchers to reveal how easy it is to take over moving vehicle
There are many reasons why manufacturers haven’t been able to secure their products, some of which includes legal and regulatory mandates. Also, the requirement that a local repair service needs access to the diagnostic information in order to repair your car, even if it is hundreds of miles from the nearest authorized dealer, plays a huge role in the security of your vehicle. This will be a difficult challenge for the automotive industry.
So think about this, more and more driver functions will be taken over by the vehicle as it travels on the same roads as millions of other vehicles in the same condition. They are communicating over wireless networks to other cars and the infrastructure around them, which might include roads, bridges, signs and monitoring stations. The drivers no longer pay attention, the car is doing most of the work, and everyone gets to their destination quickly and safely. Right?
In the next installment I’ll cover why this could be a huge problem. Some of the things that I’ll discuss include how the same problems we have in today’s software will affect how you drive tomorrow, and what needs to be done to ensure we can safely travel in the world of advanced computer to vehicle integration.