February 19, 2020

Will Self Driving Cars Offer Better Security?

Cars have become increasingly advanced over the last 20 years or so.

Whether it is the radio on your dash or parking cameras, onboard fuel management or driver assist, your automobile is significantly different to those your parents drove. If your tire pressure drops below the required level, a computer tells you. If you want to tuck your wing mirrors in after parking, chances are your car will do it for you.

The race to achieve a fully automated self-driving car has been on for some time. The technology is becoming more advanced and very soon, your drive home might allow you to catch up on your reading or deal with a few emails, with your car doing the rest of the work.

Self-driving cars are not without their dangers. The Verge reports how 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg became the first fatality in an accident with such a vehicle, although it was later blamed on human error. That weakened belief in the technology for some, but is one accident enough to suggest they’re not safe? With driverless vehicles being tech-operated, any discussion on their possible security must involve both physical road safety and cybersecurity.

Road Safety

It stands to reason that a self-driving car will be the safest option for a non-driver, but will they be ‘safe’ for all? They certainly won’t be at risk from the sort of errors that usually cause car accidents, namely driver error. Whether driving erratically, becoming distracted or even intoxicated, many road accidents can be avoided if the driver is focused and sensible.

Even those accidents that are unavoidable, such as unforeseen obstructions around corners, self-driving vehicles should be much safer. Driverless cars will take advantage of sensors to assess the speed of oncoming cars, obstacles and to even ‘read’ road signs, which should mean collisions will soon become a thing of the past.

However, as the first accident showed, there is still scope for human error.

Technology

The technology involved in such machines is incredibly advanced and will likely put an end to the traditional mechanics in greasy coveralls holding a spanner. A guide to the different types of PCBs by Altium explains how multi-board printed circuit boards are being designed for the latest technological innovations, something that requires specialist knowledge when assembling and diagnosing issues.

Medium states how car manufacturers use conventional multi-layer PCBs for most of the systems that help a vehicle drive itself, both mechanically and electrically. That technology is not cheap, meaning higher costs when things go wrong.

How safe are they in terms of hacking though? If they’re driven by a computer, could hackers theoretically take over your car and drive you where they wanted?

Hacking them via GPS would be a virtual non-starter, according to The Register. Why? Because self-driving cars only use a limited amount of satellite-based positioning. The resolution of GPS isn’t high enough to accurately control the car, so they use maps and LIDAR sensors instead meaning the risk is minimal from GPS hackers.

Physical security is something end users will have to consider. If you leave a self-driving car on your drive, then a hacker could get access to install malware or similar software, but if it is under lock and key in a garage then the risk is decreased significantly.

Whilst there will always be concerns over security, there shouldn’t be anything within the autonomous car market that causes undue panic to the public, should these vehicles become commonplace on our roads.

For more information on physical safety, be sure to check out our article Love Your Car Protect Your Family for practical tips on staying safe and secure.