Home Driverless CarsADAS Over-the-Air Fixes for Automated Vehicles Pose Challenges, CES Panelists Say

Over-the-Air Fixes for Automated Vehicles Pose Challenges, CES Panelists Say

by Brett Davis
Tesla models and other vehicles can be extensively modified by over the air updates, a practice which some experts say poses dangers for automated vehicles. Credit: Tesla

LAS VEGAS—Automobiles are increasingly becoming software-defined platforms, which opens up a lot of flexibility but creates potential pitfalls as well, according to speakers on the first day of CES 2023.

Steve Greenfield, a longtime analyst and current venture capitalist in the automotive space, said the automotive industry is going to see more change in the next 10 years than it has in the last 100 thanks to technology.

He also noted the growing presence of automakers and related companies at what had been primarily a consumer electronics show, saying, “automotive is quickly taking over this conference.”

Cars and trucks are rapidly becoming V2X connections: vehicle to infrastructure, vehicle to network, to other vehicles, to the grid, to mobile devices, to pedestrians.

The arrival of over-the-air (OTA) software updates can radically alter a vehicle’s performance, he said, such as when Tesla lowered the braking distance of some of its cars after a scathing review from Consumer Reports.

That was accomplished “with no one ever touching the car,” Greenfield said.

While such OTA updates can have a benign—albeit controversial—side through such practicse as “unlocking” features and charging for them by the month, they also open potential vulnerabilities, according to speakers at a separate panel discussion at CES.

Nat Beuse, a former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official who now is vice president of safety at Aurora, a self-driving car and truck company, led a discussion on current attitudes toward automation and safety in the transportation industry.

Matt Jones, of the Connected Vehicle Systems Alliance and director of global technology strategy at Ford, said that OTA capability is what introduces vulnerabilities through the variety of systems installed on a modern vehicle. If one of the systems gets hacked, he asked, how soon should that hack be fixed, and how can the existence of that fix be transmitted to all the users?

A phone getting hacked could be bad, but a self-driving car being hacked, or having its performance altered by a hack, could be catastrophic.

Ziv Binyamini, CEO of Foretellix Inc., which verifies ADAS and self-driving technology, said automated vehicles are the most complicated things humans have created, and they must be tested rigorously in all kinds of conditions.

Car companies can institute fixes to software hacks, but then those systems will need to be retested again to ensure safety, he said.

Jones said the task of generating and disseminating fixes should be standardized, but it’s something industry, not government, will have to do.

“Unless we talk about this as an industry, we’re never going to fix it,” he said.

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