February 20, 2014

3 Ways Software Could Put the Brakes on the Driverless Car

[caption id="attachment_13921" align="alignright" width="120"]Seapine Driverless Car Infographic Click to view full-sized infographic.[/caption] Driverless cars are coming. First, Google started testing them, and now Ford, MIT, and Stanford have teamed up to develop the technology. But in a recent Harris poll commissioned by Seapine Software, 88 percent said they would be worried about riding in a driverless car. Some were concerned about who would be liable in an accident, but most concerns related to software. Here's three ways in which survey respondents indicated that software could put the brakes on their getting into a driverless car.


Four out of five people surveyed said that they'd be worried about hardware or software glitches occurring while they were on the road. It's not surprising that this is the top concern, given the number of automotive software glitches that have prompted recalls just in the last year. Most recently, Toyota recalled 1.9 million Prius vehicles because of a software issue. Ford, Nissan, and new e-vehicle manufacturer Fisker have also recalled cars because of software issues. Even the highly-rated Tesla had to push an over-the-air update recently to resolve a software problem that caused charging units for the electric vehicle to become dangerously overheated. What would happen if the software controlling a self-driving vehicle glitched? Just one incident could torpedo consumer confidence in the entire driverless vehicle industry, especially if it resulted in injuries. If it happened soon after these cars were introduced to the market, the damage could be so severe, the industry might not recover. Millions of product development dollars would end up in the scrapyard. Stricter government regulations around hardware and software quality will most certainly be put in place, and the automotive industry will fall under closer scrutiny than ever before.


Software quality is closely related to the second biggest concern survey respondents had—hackers. Over half said they feared a hacker could attack a driverless car's systems and take control of the vehicle. This isn't as far-fetched as it may sound; hackers have already developed devices that can hack certain cars. Will the laptop replace the bent coat hanger for stealing the self-driving cars of the future? Will "hackssassins" use viruses to eliminate their targets instead of car bombs? Perhaps James Bond's driverless car will be taken over by a villainous hacker and sent speeding toward a cliff... [caption id="attachment_13892" align="aligncenter" width="513"]goodbye bond "Goodbye, Mr. Bond ..."[/caption] Okay, I may be letting my imagination run away with me. Nevertheless, the driverless industry will need to harden these future vehicles' security to prevent unauthorized intrusions. Having our computer or our phone hacked is scary enough; the implications of having our car hacked are terrifying.


[caption id="attachment_13896" align="alignleft" width="111"]snapshot-device Progressive's Snapshot device monitors driving habits in exchange for lower insurance rates.[/caption] Speaking of James Bond, 37 percent of survey respondents were concerned that driverless cars might spy on their activities and share their data with advertisers, the manufacturer, their insurance agent, or even law enforcement. It's not difficult to imagine; some auto insurers are already using tracking devices to monitor their customers' driving habits. Imagine if that data were made available to the local police. Who needs traffic cameras when a car can call the cops on itself for running a red light? And if you think those ads before movies or on Hulu are annoying, imagine how they'll seem in a car. You can bet advertisers would pay big bucks to broadcast their ads to captive driverless vehicle passengers, especially if they have data about what stores you pass on your daily commute. For many of people, cars are the last bastion of personal privacy. It's where they feel free to sing along with or talk back to the radio, or just enjoy the peace of having no one else around for a few moments. It's their alone time, and they don't want to feel like they're being watched.

It's Not A Guy Thing

Or a older person thing. The interesting facet of the Harris poll is that is neither age nor gender seemed to be a factor in the responses. Men and women were in nearly complete agreement when expressing their concerns, as were young and old respondents. What's your take? Would you be nervous about riding in a driverless car? What could the industry do to ease your misgivings? Tell me in the comments.