C. Warren Axelrod

Ford and Google Auto-Auto Collaboration … Oil and Water?

We see that Ford and Google are discussing entering a collaborative arrangement in order to advance the progress of developing AUTOnomous AUTOmobiles (which I’m thinking of calling Auto-Autos or Auto-Squared), in a rapidly-evolving highly-competitive marketplace. Could this be a dream come true? After all, my book “Engineering Safe and Secure Software Systems” is all about bringing together disparate security and safety groups to build systems that are both safe and secure.

While Ford and Google are in early talks, according to the article “Ford, Google Pursue Auto Venture,” by Christina Rogers and Alistair Barr in the Business News section of The Wall Street Journal of December 23, 2015, the demarcation of software responsibility appears to have already been determined, according to “a person familiar with the talks.” We read that:

“As part of the deal being considered, Ford would develop software for components including steering, braking and acceleration while Google would provide the overarching self-driving software that governs those functions …”

Let’s think about this for a moment. So Ford builds the control-systems software and Google builds software that manages control-system software. This is somewhat analogous to the cyber-physical systems model. The key for success of such arrangements lies in the closeness among those developing the systems and the interfaces, as well as among these two areas and those building physical components. Will they work in close collaboration or will one group merely throw software over the transom in the hope that the other group will catch it? It is vitally important that the development and testing groups work in close harmony; otherwise they risk that not only will the integrated systems be unsafe but they will present an easy target for hackers.

It is certainly appropriate that companies bring together organizations with particular expertise in various aspects of auto-autos, but unless they truly work together in a collaborative, cooperative and synergistic way, we might see driverless cars that are neither fully safe nor totally secure.

By the way, where are the discussions about making the roads and highways smarter as I discuss in my BlogInfoSec column “Smart Cars, Smarter Roads,” which was posted on May 26, 2015? I strongly believe that, without smart-road infrastructure, auto- autos can never reach their full potential. Since investments in smart roads could dwarf those in smart cars, we had better be thinking about improving the road systems, creating standards, and appropriating funding to make it happen. Perhaps the Fords, Googles, Teslas and Apples of the world will see the need and begin promoting, supporting and even providing some funds for this hugely expensive infrastructure upgrade; otherwise they might find themselves hitting a brick wall—both figuratively and actually.

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