The peril in automatic cars

I hinted last week I would write about a peril from and to automatic cars, or actually any drive-by-wire cars.

That peril is they become highly useful terrorist weapons. Today terrorists get kamikazis to drive ordinary cars to attack targets and checkpoints. It will be easy to modify a drive-by-wire car (including the self-parking cars already on the market) to be controlled by the cheap remote controls found on toy cars and planes today, and easy to mount a wireless camera (X10, the terrorist's tool!) as well.

A remote control car can be a weapon on its own, just to smash into things, but more nastily it can be loaded with explosives or poison or other nasty things. If drive-by-wire cars become commonplace (and they will) this will be possible.

I present a problem without good solution, and I also fear some of the solutions even more than the problem. For example, one of the big advantages of the automatic self-parking car which I described earlier is the car that drops you off and picks you up right at the door of where you're going. However, just as false anti-terrorist security has made it almost impossible to park or pick people up at some airports, they will move to ban all vechicles from going just where we want them to go.

They may also start demanding government overrides for the automatic cars, so police can take control of our vehicles on demand, bypassing even manual control. They will try to tightly regulate the technology (stifling it) and only allow blessed companies to work on it. As I said, a problem without obvious solution.

Maybe it would be possible to make the automated car hard to convert to remote control. For example, there could be a central "smart box" which controls the vehicle, and it could communicate with satellite boxes that power and steer the wheels. The boxes could be tamper-resistant so it was hard to break into a box and take over the control system. And the communications lines between control and satellite boxes could be encrypted with a key that was locked inside the tamper-resistant portion, so that you couldn't hack in and take control of these lines.

That's actually part of what I am afraid of. First of all, I don't think it's really possible to stop this. This applies to the simplest drive-by-wire car, which comes long before the automatic car.

Secondly, it's my car. We don't want this level of government control over it.

And finally, even if you attain this, your car needs to be able to take you into parking lots, up to the doors of buildings, etc. If it's a bomb or a bioweapon it can blow up being exactly where it's supposed to be allowed to be.

I don't think it would be a usefull means of delivering a payload (explosive, chemical or otherwise), because I think it would have been done by now. Terrorists usually just park the car, get out, and make it explode on a timer or by remote control. In that case, it doesn't really matter how the car got there.

Also, I don't think it's a real problem. Hacking into the cars control elektronics is probably harder than just hooking up a big stepper motor with some gears to the steering wheel and peddals. I think I, and many others, could do that to an ordinary (automatic transmission) car in a few days with a few hunderd bucks.

I do, however, see another problem with automagic cars: when cars start to communicate their status, like speed, position and intentions, someone might be able to abuse the system to cause massive traffic jams, or, worse, accidents, by disrupting communication (unlikely, since the cars would probably have a fail-save backup system, like radar), or by relaying false information. One could, for instance, "create" fictitious cars, standing still in the middle of the freeway, tricking the cars into slamming the breaks.

I'm not quite sure how one could cause a collision, since a car would probably try to avoid anything on radar, as opposed to relying solely on the information received from other cars. Than again, radar can be disrupted as well, possibly tricking the car into avoiding a fictitious car, which in turn might cause a collision.

I don't think it would be a usefull means of delivering a payload (explosive, chemical or otherwise), because I think it would have been done by now. Terrorists usually just park the car, get out, and make it explode on a timer or by remote control. In that case, it doesn't really matter how the car got there.

Also, I don't think it's a real problem. Hacking into the cars control elektronics is probably harder than just hooking up a big stepper motor with some gears to the steering wheel and peddals. I think I, and many others, could do that to an ordinary (automatic transmission) car in a few days with a few hunderd bucks.

I do, however, see another problem with automagic cars: when cars start to communicate their status, like speed, position and intentions, someone might be able to abuse the system to cause massive traffic jams, or, worse, accidents, by disrupting communication (unlikely, since the cars would probably have a fail-save backup system, like radar), or by relaying false information. One could, for instance, "create" fictitious cars, standing still in the middle of the freeway, tricking the cars into slamming the breaks.

I'm not quite sure how one could cause a collision, since a car would probably try to avoid anything on radar, as opposed to relying solely on the information received from other cars. Than again, radar can be disrupted as well, possibly tricking the car into avoiding a fictitious car, which in turn might cause a collision.

Brad Sez: The key is we want our automatic cars to drop us off right at the door. It's hard to drive a bomb-loaded car right to the door of an airport, and get out and leave it there. They have cops watching for just this.

It is a good idea because it is the only way car usage will survive in the age of shrinking oil supplies.

High speed drafting, only one of the ways this will save fuel, is a must. The speed record for a bike riding behind a moving windblock is 167 mph.

Great idea. Another way to

Great idea. Another way to solve the energy crisis is to equip each car with a Vandergraff Generator, contained inside a pop bottle. That way, when global warming causes lightening storms all the time, we'll be able to harvest that energy.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

His name is Brad Templeton. You figure it out.
Please make up a name if you do not wish to give your real one.
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Personal home pages only. Posts with biz home pages get deleted and search engines ignore all links
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options