LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Auto Show’s Connected Car Expo puts LA at the intersection of Detroit and Silicon Valley. Cybersecurity garnered attention, as did the impact of the sharing economy on connected features. Caution was urged that these new technologies be carefully vetted for safety and reliability, as failures will impede market acceptance. And research shows safety to be one of consumers’ highest valued attributes that connected vehicles can offer.
Call to action on automotive cybersecurity. Safeguarding the vehicle with its hugely complex supply chain is an enormous challenge. Sensors can be spoofed, wireless sensors and radar can be forged, and cameras can be blocked, warned Andre Wiemerskirch of UTRI. A greater following distance between cars would allow other systems to kick in, should some sensors be hacked. Wiemerskirch appealed for a delay on all connected vehicle features that make a vehicle too vulnerable to hacking until there are better cyber security solutions. He proposed confidence levels for determining the integrity of information coming back from sensors. And he called for a resilient architecture to be created with mature security solutions, such as those used in iPhone security.
A dependable car hacker? Faith in vehicle reliability is one thing; faith that the vehicle won’t be hacked is another. I was looking forward to Chris Valasek’s appearance once again at the Connected Vehicle Show. He is a skilled automotive hacker, who has helped the industry become more secure. You may have read the account by Andy Greenberg in Wired magazine of how Valesek and a cohort hacked Greenberg’s Jeep (with permission) while he was traveling on a freeway. This included disabling its brakes, accelerator and other core functionality. Valasek didn’t show up for his scheduled talk, which, perhaps, can’t be seen as unexpected.
How well do they perform? Connected vehicles struggle with performance in certain environments, warned Thomas Form of Volkswagen. More testing and work are needed for automated cars to handle bad weather, particularly conditions in which visibility is obscured, like fog or sandstorms. Unusual objects, such as tumbleweed skittling across the highway, can cause an automated vehicle to make an emergency stop. What would happen when a traffic light is red, but a police officer points to a driver to go, or indicates she needs to stop at a green light? Form exhorted attendees to test all scenarios, even the unlikely ones.
Will driver skills erode? One attendee asked panelists if with automation, drivers’ skills will become rusty from disuse and be less able to handle manual driving, pointing to the airplane disasters of Asiana in San Francisco and Aeroflot in China. Both flights crashed due to pilots’ confusion with autopilot. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) claims two thirds of pilots make mistakes because of their reliance on technology. A common error is not recognizing that the autopilot has been disconnected. A report from the FAA reads, “pilots sometimes rely too much on automated systems and may be reluctant to intervene.”
Industry worried about sharing. The exponential growth in the sharing economy and declining interest among young people in owning a vehicle was one theme of the conference. If this becomes a massive disruptive trend in mobility, do we know its influence on the uptake of connective technology? The young are most ready to embrace new technology, yet teenage driver license rates peaked in 1982 and have fallen ever since.
New mobility options. Millennials, those born after 1980, are showing less enthusiasm for car ownership and driving than their predecessors. Less than 70 percent of those aged 16-24 have a driver’s license. John Zimmer of Lyft reported that 60 percent of their rides in San Francisco and 50 percent of those in New York City are with Lyft Line, a service in which strangers heading in the same direction share Lyft rides. Not only are riders accepting an unknown person to drive them in a personal car, they don’t mind sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers in the intimate confines of a vehicle. Zimmer reported that Lyft is now looking to offer themed cars, such as those showing sports or other types of entertainment on video screens to create new market “verticals.”
Transforming a personal car into rental vehicle. Cars are vastly under-utilized with the average U.S. household using its cars just four percent of the time with only 1.7 seats occupied on average. This has been duly noted by some car owners, who have created an economy of renting out their vehicles with the help of services like RelayRides. Automakers are taking stock of how Airbnb sliced into the hotel market and are looking at ways to own shared mobility. Ford is one of the OEMs experimenting in the sharing market. Alicia Agius of Ford described Go!Drive, which offers access to a fleet of cars for flexible and affordable one-way journeys throughout London. It also serves to introduce drivers to the Ford brand and build a loyal base among those who become car buyers.
How are we doing? The intersection of tech and automotive is going remarkably well, and the OEMs are proud of how they have cut long development cycles and become more open to new ways of thinking. Tech has prided itself as the innovators, but a speaker from Google humbly remarked, “The automotive industry has been thinking about the future longer than those of us living in Silicon Valley and working at Google.” A nice tip of the hat.