More Manufacturers Creating Smart Cars: Is Smarter Safer?

Over ten thousand people attended the yearly Intelligent Transport Systems conference in Detroit recently. The event marked a major turning point for the smart car as many major automakers revealed plans to put automated cars into production in the next ten years.

The idea of automated “smart cars” has sparked controversy; proponents like David Friedman, chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), say the technology can vastly improve safety, fuel efficiency and traffic flow. However, some are concerned about potential threats to data security and privacy.

Mary Bara, GM CEO and keynote speaker at the ITS conference, said, “No other suite of technologies offers so much potential for good, and it’s time to turn potential into reality.” During the event, she announced the production launch of a 2017 model that will be equipped with the new Super Cruise system, which allows hands-free and foot-free operation.

The new midrange CTS model from Cadillac will be able to communicate with other vehicles on the road. The U.S. government is developing standards for Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) technology, which will be used to inform drivers about problems with traffic, accidents, construction and weather. It may also enable cars to “platoon”, travelling close together like railway cars, enabling more cars to travel without adding more roadways.

Automakers such as Nissan, Cadillac, Honda and Audi all have plans for semi or fully autonomous vehicles. Google is even planning a fleet of vehicles without pedals or steering wheels, but the cars are not yet in production.

Many are concerned about the widespread use of such technology, such as Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who said, “Cars are ‘smarter’ than they have ever been, and they will only continue to get smarter as technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Cars are now able to track where we shop, where we eat and where we go on family vacations, but drivers should be able to go about their daily lives without being tracked.”

NHTSA’s Friedman echoed the concern for security and privacy during the ITS conference, saying, “The time is now: We need to make sure we move forward aggressively on cybersecurity.” There is growing concern that with the new technology comes increased risk of security breaches, allowing hackers to gain personalized information.

Researchers recently showed how it is possible to gain access to the software system of the Tesla Model S, and another university group hacked the keyless entry system of another vehicle. The concern is that hackers will gain access no matter what regulations and safeguards are put in place.

Even so, the benefit of such smart technology is so huge that production of smart and autonomous vehicles will move forward. The improvements in safety and traffic flow, say proponents, will be immense and will make the risk worthwhile.

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