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Self-driving cars may still seem like the stuff of science fiction (or maybe exotic Google R&D tests on the faraway streets of San Francisco), but a conference entitled the World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems was recently held in Detroit. It’s the 21st year of the conference. That means while we weren’t looking, there’s been two decades of work done with this technology. Self-driving cars are coming. And as they start hitting the streets over the next few years, they’ll need IT technicians to design, manage, and secure the many wireless networks required to make it all work.
Writing a column for Wired, IBM’s general manager of its Global Automotive Industry, Dirk Wollschlaeger, calls connected cars the “ultimate internet of things.” Huge amounts of data will be collected and analyzed, including every vehicle’s speed, location, and direction in the hopes of creating a “collision-free society.” Cars will talk to each other via V2V (vehicle to vehicle) networks, talk to signal lights, talk to road sensors, and maybe even talk to your smartphone. This vast, interconnected communication network will make it possible for cars to automatically steer, brake, change lanes, and even enter and exit freeways. The Detroit conference featured Honda testing just such a prototype on city freeways and the conference keynote suggested V2V technology will go into select 2017 GM cars. Wollschlaeger further notes that it’s not just vehicles that will benefit from this data; IBM has conducted tests with communities, using V2V information to improve city traffic management.
But outside of flashy conferences and tests, practical challenges remain before wide V2V implementation is possible, as Dick O’Brien at Symantec outlines. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently got involved, stating its intent to help develop a common, standardized communication system to allow all of these components to talk to one another. The NHTSA estimates V2V technology each year could save more than 1000 lives and prevent 500,000 accidents, but isn’t convinced the auto industry can come up with a universal protocol on its own. Equally important to the NHTSA is the need for security to avoid tampering with a system that could ultimately accommodate over 350 million users. For now, the NHTSA has decided on an asymmetric Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) encryption model. PKI systems are widely used today, but not on the level needed for V2V and not with the sort of privacy and anonymity demands required by V2V. As for who will manage the security, the NHTSA proposes a private company do the work, which takes us back to our first point as it related to IT jobs: as technology evolves, opportunity arises.