C. Warren Axelrod

Auto Autos—Take the Fork

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it” is a saying made famous by the late, great Yogi Berra. It came to mind when I saw an article “Self-driving cars reach a fork in the road, and automakers take different routes” by Ashley Halsey III and Michael Laris in the August 24, 2016 issue of The Washington Post.

The “fork” discussed in the article is whether to include steering wheels and pedals in autonomous vehicles based on one’s willingness to give over complete control to the vehicle’s software and sensors.

However, there is another “fork” that has not yet been resolved and could well be a prerequisite to the acceptance of the decision to relinquish control to non-human devices—and that is whether vehicle-to-vehicle communications and smart roadways must be fully implemented before we can trust within-vehicle controls totally.

I believe that the prerequisites need to be in place prior to introducing completely autonomous vehicles with no human intervention. Until then, vehicles should, for the most part, be semi-autonomous with the capability of allowing drivers to grab control when necessary and with systems that insist on uninterrupted driver attention. Another approach would be to assign dedicated lanes to such vehicles, much the way we have HOV lanes, except that they would not be optional. Either way, an enormous investment in roadway infrastructure and traffic management systems is needed.

I discussed an intelligent-roadway experiment in my May 26, 2015 BlogInfoSec column “Smart Cars, Smarter Roads.” Since then, there have been numerous advances in technology and they are being put to the test in prototypical situations throughout the world. While the current emphasis is on safety, there remains issues relating to cybersecurity, and with intelligence (artificial or otherwise) expanding within and between vehicles, between vehicles and infrastructure, and between both vehicles and infrastructure and the Cloud, the resolution of cybersecurity issues become ever more important. It’s time to see much more research around cybersecurity as technology gallops along for self-driving vehicles and their infrastructures.


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