Hacked Cars!? Does internet connectivity in vehicles make them safer?

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Hacked Car

Hacked Cars!?

In our day of technology and internet connectivity, will there be safety with our vehicle’s safety systems?  Should we worry about hacked cars? According to IIHS, we are moving this way with cars with internet connections that will be able to update themselves to stay safe and secure.  According to Russ Rader from IIHS, “Tesla demonstrated that with their crash avoidance technology, updating that through an over the air update.”  The update was sent to the vehicle via an integrated Internet connection.  The update tackled an issue with a NHTSA-issued recall, and added new safety and driver assistance features, all without having to visit the mechanic.

The engineers and techs at the head office can update the software through an over-the-air update due to on-board sensors and cameras that are equipped on the Tesla Model S. These updates can include additional functionality, improvements in current features and updates that will make your car safer.

New safety concerns pop up every year, thanks to new research and studies. Consider 2012, when the IIHS included small overlap crash tests as a way to cut down on the types of crashes that accounted for nearly a quarter of fatal car accidents started. Since then, automakers have been improving the safety structures of their vehicles in order to be safer in small overlap crashes.

But what if the IIHS finds specific data that changes at what distance automatic braking should occur? Thanks to sensors and hardware already used in vehicles and the Internet-connected nature of the vehicles, cars can stay up to date with changing safety standards with a simple software upgrade.

“The vision is to update the vehicle for new features and new safety concerns,” said Anupam Malhotra, senior manager of Connected Vehicles at Audi of America. “We are working on those kinds of features.”

Malhotra said the modern car is made up of many pieces of hardware that interact with software to assist the driver. For example, the throttle response is smoothed out and steering effort is artificially weighted all using algorithms and computer codes and commands. The traction control and driver assistance features can override the driver’s inputs to keep the car safe and comfortable. The software that controls all of this can be tweaked to make the car even safer via an over the air update.

One side effect of these increasingly connected vehicles is their vulnerability to hacking. This past summer, it was revealed that hackers could hack into a Jeep Cherokee and take remote control of the vehicle. By exploiting a vulnerability with the car’s internet connection system, hackers could manipulate the air conditioning, windows, wipers, and even the throttle, causing significant safety issues.

In the past, if your car’s safety systems (like an airbag) was defective and required a fix, you’d have to take it into your dealership’s service center to get it fixed, and while that fix would likely be provided free of charge, it would still be a pretty big inconvenience. However, for this Uconnect hacking concern, Jeep issued a fix that you can download onto a USB stick and plug into your car. Just like that, we have do-it-yourself car updates to help you stay safe.

Hackers also found a similar vulnerability in Teslas, and the automaker released a safety patch over the air hours after it happened.

Building Blocks for Driverless Vehicles

All this hardware and software isn’t just designed to keep us safe though, it’s designed to stop us from driving entirely.

“These are the stepping stones to self-driving cars,” explains Andrew Poliak from QNX. It’s clear though, as research is constantly showing us new ways cars can be safer, that new technology will allow us to update our vehicles to adapt and meet new safety standards. But don’t expect to never have to get a new car. “You can’t do it all by software alone,” says  Malhotra. “You can’t equip a car with all the hardware it will need forever.”

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