In the last few days, Volvo have announced their keyless car. What is perhaps unusual is that they’ve chosen to trust a user’s access to their vehicle in a mobile phone – an inherently weak device. Should you run out of battery, drop your phone or fall victim of one of the ever increasing number of trojans or viruses on modern smartphones, you may just find you have no car to use.
With the ever increasing push by manufacturers to remove human, physical interaction, questions remain over the key benefactors of such moves. It’s becoming clear that one force is the expected shift away from direct ownership to sharing schemes. However, history suggests that such social change is mostly confined to densely populated urban areas. Beyond major cities, the success of car shares ebbs away. Where, for example, do BMW and their customers fit into this future equation? Cars and a brand designed for keen drivers, symbols of status – it’s hard to see why a BMW driver would wish to foresake their driving experience or share their beloved car with the neighbour with the annoying kids that get crayon on everything. For that matter, why would the neighbour want to share a BMW when he or she could opt for some future Ford Galaxy that drives itself?
Assuming that we do indeed move forward to a world where cars are or can be self-driven, where a user is no more connected to a vehicle than they are to a mobile phone contract, does the move to technological reliance really stack up? Do the pros outweigh the cons? The first thing to bear in mind is that when everything becomes digital and wirelessly connected, everything also becomes hackable – by thieves, governments and terrorists. Today, you can already hack production vehicles and interfere with braking and acceleration – this is before vehicles become part of any wider grid. Internal networks on airliners can be accessed through their business Wifi. Hackers now surreptitiously place trojans on Android phones that not only keylog your banking logins but also divert the automated phone messages used to authorise unusual payments.
Car companies have a terrible record at securing their systems. BMWs can be re-programmed through OBD2 because they have no security level. Siemens, who make a substantial amount of automotive electronics and systems failed to secure their PTC controllers allowing the US government to hack Iranian centrifuges. No one is beyond being hacked. The question is this.. who is really in control of the car you will be ‘driving’ in the future?