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September 6, 2013

The scary age of cars…

I recently read that the DOT is pushing for cars that can communicate with one another… some sort of wireless signal sent from cars that could help prevent collisions… two cars coming at each other could potentially put on the brakes to at least reduce impact speed of a head on collision if the driver were unconscious or something. While this does sound great! There’s some “bugs” that will have to be worked out first… first off even if cars were released 3-5 years from now (a typical design cycle for a new car) that had these capabilities it would be another 10 years from that time before we REALLY saw the impact of said changes.

Second, the thought of wireless ECU communications is a bit frightening… black market parts could be built to “push” people out of the way of jerks on the road… as these systems would undoubtedly have communications that prevented a driver from hitting another car while changing lanes (typically this is done by applying one of the rear brakes to steer the car, cars today have this option but the system uses radar to detect vehicles), when wireless communication is added a person could spoof information like this to push drivers out of their way (tailgating to the extreme). Of course these devices would be illegal… but radar detectors and jammers are illegal in a lot of states… doesn’t stop people from obtaining them.

ECU’s today are a closed loop system, but some researchers have shown that they are extremely vulnerable to the types of attacks that I’ve mentioned. Performance car enthusiasts have known this for years, a cheaper and more flexible alternative to getting your ECU reporgrammed is to get a piggyback system that intercepts the ECU’s commands and changes them based on what kind of performance changes you want to make. There is no security, or validation process so it is very easy to intercept the ECU signals and tell it to do what you want it to do. Once wireless is added these systems will have to be secured. This is where the conundrum comes in for me… Do I want the government regulating and telling people they must have these wireless communication systems in their car? No! But at the same time, without forced compliance their effectiveness would be greatly reduced. So you have to wonder… how long will it be before we’re no longer driving ourselves? Statistically the number of people obtaining their drivers licenses has steadily decreased over the last 20 years… I wonder if there won’t be a day when fewer than 10% of the population actually drives themselves.

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