How Safe is Your Self-driving Car?

Autonomous car sensor system concept for safety of driverless mode car control

Autonomous automobiles have been described for decades as the cars of the future. The 21st century has given rise to many advancements in technology, automated cars being one of them. These automobiles have several benefits that include the reduction of traffic and increased efficiency.

The worldwide web is a scary place where cyber hackers are rampant and are constantly learning new ways to bypass security features and hack personal information. As the world evolves and new technologies are developed, cyber crimes also adapt.

The success of autonomous cars relies on two aspects. The first is the manufacturer’s ability to make the autonomous car sensitive enough to accurately judge its surroundings and map out a safe path.

The second is the safety and cybersecurity features that prevent unwanted cyber hackers from accessing information stored on the database. This information includes location history. This information could help criminals conduct criminal offenses such as theft and even murder.

Before purchasing a self-driven vehicle, it is important to first understand exactly how they work and why there is so much hype around their safety and cybersecurity. What are the benefits of autonomous vehicles? How safe are you when you step into your vehicle? Are automated vehicles the ideal transportation method or are they potentially dangerous?

Woman driver taking selfies with her mobile phone
Young redhead woman driver taking selfies with her mobile phone sitting behind the wheel of the car in rush hour traffic jam.

What is an Autonomous Vehicle and How Does it Work?

An autonomous vehicle is self-aware and can make its own decisions and drive itself around without the need for a driver. Self-driving cars can drive themselves around, but only when a human driver is present. In this article, the words “self-driving” and “autonomous” shall be used interchangeably.

Autonomous vehicles make use of sensors or radars, complex algorithms typical of applications that make use of artificial intelligence. Various systems such as machine learning systems, complex processors, and cameras are used to make educated judgments about the space around the automobile and tell it which way to go. It does this by detecting traffic signals, road signs, and pedestrians.

Different types of radars map out the area of the car’s surroundings. Radar radars are used to assess the position of nearby vehicles while Lidar radars (light, detection, and ranging) use light to identify road markings and edges and measure distances. Ultrasonic radars located on the wheels of the vehicle are installed to detect curbs and assess the positioning of other vehicles to assist with parking.

Intelligent software then assesses the information received from cameras and radars, it determines a path and sends a message to the car’s actuators that control the steering, braking, and acceleration.

There are six different categories of autonomous automobiles. These are based on their independence or need for intervention.

  • Level 0

These systems do not control the vehicle but alert the human drivers to any dangers or provide help during emergencies.

  • Level 1

This category of autonomous car has cruise control that assists with managing the vehicle’s speed and assists with changing lanes. While the vehicle may have some control of the speed of the steering wheel, it cannot operate these two functions at the same time.

  • Level 2

These systems are an expansion of level one. They allow the car to take control of the speed and steering of the vehicle at the same time under certain conditions.

  • Level 3

This type of self-driving cars can drive themselves, but a driver is required to remain in the driver’s seat to regain control of the vehicle when requested by the vehicle.

  • Level 4

These autonomous vehicles are almost completely autonomous. They are limited during inclement weather and do not travel at high speeds. A human driver is required.

  • Level 5

Level five cars are completely autonomous and can drive in all conditions without the need for a driver. Level five cars are permitted for use in all cities, anywhere in the world.

What Makes Self Driving Vehicles So Susceptible to Autonomous Vehicles Attacks?

Being able to connect to the internet gives autonomous vehicles an advantage because it allows the computer to reach global positioning satellites that help the car determine the best route to take.

But the truth is that all systems that have been computerized are at risk of being hacked. Software developers are always on their toes trying to find new ways to keep information safe from malicious third parties. Any car that is connected to the internet is at risk of being hijacked or operated remotely.

Software developers have admitted that it is extremely difficult to produce software that is without any loopholes. The more complex the software is, the more vulnerable it becomes to cyber attacks. As we have already seen, the software employed by automated car manufacturers is complex, receiving and processing information from several radars and mapping routes.

Research shows that autonomous cars are susceptible to cyber hacking from a remote location. They were able to operate the car’s system and control acceleration, braking, and even the windscreen wipers while the car was in motion and even move it to a location of their choosing. This raises many concerns for automated car users.

Because this is a matter of public safety, automakers take the safety and cybersecurity of their customers very seriously.

How are Self-driving Cars Accessed and Controlled?

Cyber hacking is defined as the act of gaining illegal entry into a computer program using algorithm-cracking code. This software “cracks” or solves complex problems or algorithms that provide passwords and code to enter a computer network. This can give the hacker access to all the information or tools included in the computer system.

Because self-driven cars make use of cameras to assess their surroundings, hackers can control the travel of the vehicle by viewing its location on a map and redirecting it to a path of his or her choice.

Because cyber attacks allow an unauthorized person access to the acceleration and braking of a vehicle, the lives of drivers and passengers are endangered. Terrorists could make use of cyber hacking for malicious purposes, or cars could be hacked to cause collisions or traffic jams to suit the hacker’s intent.

Here is a summary of how hackers can take over your vehicle through cyber attacks:

  • They can access pressure monitoring. This monitoring program alerts the driver to low or high tire pressure. Hacking this system also allows a hacker to track your location remotely.
  • Braking. Accessing this system allows hackers the opportunity to slow your car down or stop it completely.
  • Diagnostics. Tampering with the diagnostic system could lead users to falsely believe that their vehicle needs repair.
  • Changing Other Features. Smaller changes like changing the radio or altering the time can be unnerving to a driver.
  • Acceleration. Acceleration controlled by a third party can be extremely dangerous.
  • Door Locking. Interfering with your car’s locking mechanism can provide great opportunities for thieves.
  • Accessing connected devices. Your personal data may be at stake should hackers access your smartphone.

The Pros and Cons of Owning a Self Driving Car

Let us begin the discussion by analyzing the pros and cons of automated vehicles. Are automakers simply out to exploit you?

The Pros

  • Automated automobiles can provide greater road safety by reducing the number of road accidents. The average number of deaths that occur due to road accidents in the United States each day is over 100. The use of artificial intelligence eliminates negligence and risky behavior, helping to prevent road accidents.
  • People with disabilities, such as those with walking impediments, blindness, or deafness benefit greatly from autonomous vehicles and contribute to their independence.
  • Because an autonomous vehicle could help reduce road accidents, they in turn help to reduce medical and vehicle parts-related expenses. A low accident history could also decrease insurance company bills.
  • Having a vehicle take care of the driving could allow for greater levels of productivity.
  • A higher amount of autonomous vehicles on the road means fewer traffic jams.
  • There are environmental benefits to using a self driving car too. Autonomous vehicles promote the use of electric cars, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Cons

• Hackers are continuously deriving new ways to hack into systems, so your automated vehicle may be at risk of being hacked.

• Unemployment rates may increase with the increased use of self-driving cars as drivers become redundant.

• Car ownership may decrease as people rely more and more on autonomous taxi services, preventing the need to physically own a vehicle. This may result in grave consequences for the auto industry.

• Due to the reduction in road accidents thanks to the efficiency of automated vehicle technology, insurance companies may go out of business.

• The vehicle can malfunction, resulting in unpredictable movements of the vehicle, including traveling along paths other than the one specified by the user, sudden braking, and accelerating and stopping altogether.

• Autonomous vehicles cost a great deal of money.

Despite the dangers and risks associated with these smart cars, the benefits they promise are hard to ignore. As the technology develops, self-driving cars are expected to become more reliable and resistant to imminent attacks from cyber hackers.

How Many Have Died Because of Automated Cars?

The fatality rate of autonomous driving has been estimated to be 1 death per 320 million miles of autonomous travel. There is one known fatality that has been linked directly to self-driving cars. The person involved was crossing the street on a bicycle when an Uber self-driven car ran her over. The analysis of the incident showed that the pedestrian was not detected by the car’s radars because she was pushing along a bicycle, which may have confused the car’s detection system. The pedestrian did not make use of the pedestrian crossing while crossing the road and the driver did not intervene in time to prevent the collision.

This proves that automated cars can indeed malfunction. The system can experience a glitch, causing the vehicle to act unpredictably, endangering the lives of those in the vehicle. Some examples of what can go wrong include accelerating to dangerously high speeds, sudden braking, or halting altogether.

How to Improve Your Cybersecurity

There are steps that manufacturers and autonomous car users can take to minimize the risk of self-driven cars being hacked.

• Automakers can make use of several different networks for different cities. This reduces the chances of all the cars in a city or area being hacked at once.

• Changing the password regularly on your automated car can reduce the chances of an autonomous vehicle hack.

• Regular software updates mean that your car has the latest updates of security features, lowering the risk of anyone being able to hack your vehicle.

• Turning off your GPS can make a significant difference because it connects you to the internet, which is the means a hacker use to get into your car’s computer system, preventing them from getting data such as your physical address.

• Both users and manufacturers must make security a priority to prevent attacks. Users should only choose manufacturers who are serious about public safety and do not take shortcuts. Shortcuts in production could have grave consequences later.

• Drivers should get to know the limitations and strengths of their self-driving cars. They must also strive to understand the cyber security measures in place.

Millions of people worldwide lose loved ones to road accidents due to negligence or poor judgment. However, autonomous vehicles can reduce incidents by removing human error. They make use of complex technology that assesses a car’s surroundings and makes judgments controlled by computerized systems, mapping out an acceptable route to travel.

There are six categories that drivers can choose from that range in functionality. While higher categories require less human assistance, lower categories just provide human assistance.

Accidents and malfunctions were reported with automated cars, but the deaths related to autonomous vehicles are low when compared to those incurred due to driver error. This technology is however considerably new. More and more research is being conducted and developers are finding new ways to prevent malicious third parties from hacking autonomous vehicles.

This astounding technology has already taken the market by storm and companies like Tesla and Waymo have sold millions of cars to date. But, as with all computerized technologies, automated cars may always be at risk for attack. Despite the dangers and risks associated with self-driven cars, the future of this industry does look bright, with over 50 percent of business networks claiming to move to autonomous cars in the next two decades.

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