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Connected Vehicles: Could Be Wonderful, But The Risk…

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ANN ARBOR (WWJ) – The wonder and the risk of autonomous and connected vehicles was on display Wednesday at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor at “Focus on the Future,” a conference on automotive research sponsored by UM’s Transportation Research Institute.

True autonomous vehicles — where you ride in the back seat like a chauffeur is driving the car, in the words of John Capp, director of electrical and controls systems research at General Motors — is still some time off. It will take an integrated systems approach involving 360-degree sensing, fusing sensor inputs together like camera, radar and sonar, and integration of mapping, GPS and vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems.

And it will take cooperation on the part of automakers and drivers, he said: “It doesn’t do any good if only my car is equipped with this technology. I need to be able to talk to other cars that are also equipped.”

For such systems to be viable, Capp said, they’ll also need to be profitable both from a factory-installed and an aftermarket perspective. Growth in the systems can also be forced by government mandates, or encouraged by government or insurance company incentives.

The next step, Capp said, will be “emergency intervention” systems like adaptive cruise control that apply the brakes if you’re approaching someone too quickly from behind.

And boy, will those systems need to be secure. Andre Weimerskirch, associate research scientist at UMTRI, painted the terrifying possibilities of hackers gaining control of an autonomous car — turning off the brakes or headlights of cars on the highway, or locking up one wheel’s brake at 70 mph. If that happens, “good luck to you,” he joked. There’s also the chance that hackers could introduce malware through a CD played in the entertainment system.

So when will the first car be hacked in the field? Weimerskirch estimated in five years or so, based on the history of hacking.

So-called vehicle to infrastructure systems could also be hacked. “Imagine a hacker closing all the bridges and tunnels to Manhattan,” Weimerskirch said. “It would take Manhattan days to recover.”

Solving the problem will require precise attention to detail, he said. The modern car contains 100 million lines of computer code, and on average there’s about one security flaw per 1,000 lines of code. Automakers and standards-setting bodies in the United States and Europe are at work on advanced security standards to make it as difficult as possible to hack a car. That will involve getting down into the weeds of security — digital signatures and changing passwords on a regular basis.

Weimerskirch said a comprehensive security requirement analysis system for each level of vehicle, from completely non-automated to full self-driving automation is needed. Proper electronics architecture, security best practices ad functional safety and security standards are needed at each level.

Overall, speakers said the introduction of autonomous vehicles, at least at the consumer level, will be evolutionary, rather than revolutionary.

Amine Taleb, manager of advanced driver assistance systems at Valeo, said his company is running a $100,000 student innovation contest to “make the cars of 2030 smarter and more intuitive.” The deadline, however, is Friday, Feb. 14, so hurry. More at this link. 

UM and the greater Ann Arbor community has already been a hub of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. In August 2011, UMTRI won a competitive national bid to host a project called the Safety Pilot Model Deployment for the U.S. Department of Transportation. The project involved nearly 3,000 vehicles equipped with short-range communications gear that “talked” to each other.

The project started in August 2012 and was initially planned to last a year, but was extended through the end of February. Jim Sayer, an UMTRI research scientist, said talks are under way to extend it furhter.

Sayer said the vehicles “are exchanging for the most part information on each vehicle’s position and trajectory, so that if you have two vehicles that are approaching each other and it looks like they’re going to collide, that information can be exchanged, and one or both of the drivers could be warned about a pending crash.”

Some 400 of the 2,800 vehicles participating had systems warning them of an impending crash, Sayer said.

The vehicles used a communication protocol called DSRC, for dedicated short range communication, in the 5.9 gigahertz radio band. “It’s very similar to Wi-Fi,” Sayer said. Communication range was about 1,000 feet — longer if there were no physical obstructions between vehicles.

During the 15 months of the study, more than 12 billion basic safety messages have been collected, and 60,000 interactions between participating vehicles have occurred.

Sayner said that to his knowledge there was no attempt to hack the communications. A basic security protocol was in place, he said, but “not as robust as security systems will be in the future.”

Volunteers were recruited for the program in northeast Ann Arbor, through the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor Huron High School, Clague Middle School, and Northside, Logan, Thurston and King elementary schools.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Transportation gave the green light to proceed with vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology — basic ones, that provide alerts to drivers. The DOT did not green-light automatic vehicle systems based on V2V technologies. And the DOT emphasized the program will not involve exchanging or recording personal information or tracking vehicle movements.

Also, last October, the UM Board of Regents approved plans to proceed with the design of a unique environment for testing connected and automated vehicles. Current plans call for the facility to be completed by fall 2014 at a cost of about $6.5 million.

The facility is a critical element of the U-M Mobility Transformation Center’s goal to develop and implement an entire system of connected and automated vehicles on the streets of southeast Michigan by 2021.

More about the Safety Pilot Model Deployment at http://bit.ly/1gH83gj. More about the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center at http://bit.ly/1gH88Ra. And more about UMTRI at http://www.umtri.umich.edu,

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