By Megan Ray Nicholas Truth Theory
We often think of the internet of things (IoT) existing only in the way of appliances and wearables, but the fact is that autonomous cars represent one of the most significant and fast-approaching IoT devices in our everyday lives. Compared to your smart home’s network-aware thermostat, autonomous cars transmit exponentially more data, and that comes with advantages and disadvantages.
Google’s autonomous cars are already venturing onto California streets, where new laws are paving the way for the next generation of self-driving vehicles to take over driving duties entirely. Other states are expected to follow suit soon.
Big Data Hits the Road
The GPS, infotainment and even autonomous driving systems on these cars of the future will rely on constant connection to the internet. In addition to receiving information, they will contribute vast amounts of data about road conditions, traffic patterns and even the satellite radio station their passenger is listening to on their way to work.
So much communication-taking place inevitably breeds security risks. Hackers and researchers have already done an excellent job of instilling a fear of car hacking into the general public.
That fear is well-founded – the potential for mass exploits to cause chaos on streets is very real using current technology. It’s unlikely we’ll see automakers commit to selling new cars they know can be hacked so easily.
However, there are real wins that come with the high-fidelity connection between next-generation automobiles and the internet.
Advantages of Being Connected
In the next few decades, you should expect a revolution in the way we use cars. With the transition to complete autonomy, whole industries will spring up around the tasks people complete during their morning and evening commute. Many of them will rely on network connection.
Productivity from the car will increase greatly. For example, the constraints of giving a presentation while making a long trip by car will be completely removed. This is, of course, in addition to some of the features we’re already seeing autonomous cars display, like accident-avoidance, route selection and voice control for in-car amenities.
The Worst-Case Scenario
Use of a public network doesn’t come without risks, though. While automakers are working with network security leaders to implement innovative new solutions to today’s vulnerabilities, we are living in the era of cybercrime. These threats might be diminished, but they’ll never go away entirely.
A successful cyberattack on a major motorway trafficked by large numbers of autonomous cars has the potential to be catastrophic. There could very possibly be a high number of casualties involved. The only argument that makes this scenario acceptable is that automobile accidents are already an extremely common occurrence with humans in control.
Traveling by car is, in many places, the most dangerous way to get around. So what have we got to lose?
It’s true that connected cars exhibit some vulnerabilities, but on modern roadways, the majority of accidents are the result of human error. They don’t occur because something on a car happens to fail and results in a loss of control – that is, in fact, one of the least common scenarios.
If we can eliminate the human error involved in car accidents, we will see a drastic reduction in fatal crashes and injuries to drivers.
This doesn’t mean we won’t be subject to potentially debilitating cyberattacks. They will be the challenge we are forced to deal with in this new era, but isn’t any reduction in loss of life a win?
Megan Ray Nichols is the author of this article and enjoys writing about astronomy and other scientific fields on her blog, Schooled By Science.
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