3 min

The 3 Big Questions Looming Over the Future of Connected Vehicles

Grand predictions are being made about the future of connected and autonomous driving – but they could all come to nothing if three big questions about the tech are not properly answered.


21 Sep, 2023

Multiple studies and research are saying big, big things about how the future of driving will be massively disrupted by Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs). From visions of drivers sitting back and working behind the wheel during their commute to the elderly accessing reliable transport that can take them wherever they need to go, CAVs are an alluring prospect.

Safety will also be boosted with the adoption of existing advanced driver-assistance systems already predicted to drive down accident rates by 15% in Europe alone come 2030. According to a recent report by McKinsey, CAVs will boost business bottom lines too – it predicts that by 2035, autonomous driving could generate $300-$400 billon in revenue.

Identifying the key issues

However, unlocking such vast potential – both financially and societally – remains just out of reach for now as three key roadblocks stand in the way of CAVs delivering on their significant promise:

1. Are CAVs robust enough?

To offer a safe driving experience, CAV technology must be able to operate with any level of connectivity and in all conditions. For instance, heavy rain can make it difficult for an artificial intelligence (AI) system to detect and track road markings, meaning the CAV won’t be able to operate safely.

Poor network coverage could also confound the CAV’s communication systems, leaving it incapable of effectively communicating with other vehicles or road-related infrastructure. Combined, these challenges risk autonomous driving being left less safe than a vehicle operated by a human driver.

2. Can CAVs be trusted?

Research shows that CAVs have several areas of vulnerability – attack vectors – that could be open to cyber attack. From Personal Area Networks – think in-vehicle local wi-fi hotspots – to Controller Area Networks, a CAV has the potential to be ‘hacked’ by bad actors. For instance, a hacker could display distracting messages on the IVI or even trigger the car’s brakes (this has already been ‘successfully’ demonstrated in a Tesla Model X).

Now consider that by 2025, a single vehicle will require an estimated 600 million lines of code – more than a Boeing 787 – growing the scale of attack vectors, an issue compounded further by the inevitable increase in unidentified vulnerabilities as well as the risk of outdated software. In future, this means OEMs must create systems that feature genuine cyber resilience to ensure CAVs remain safe and in 'control' at all times.

3. Can CAVs be compliant, even ‘ethical'?

Stepping away from such in-vehicle challenges reveals serious global factors at play as well. For instance, every region has its own regulations that must be addressed including vehicle testing, certification and more. This represents a huge range of potential issues to wrangle with including liability and type approval through to product, civil and criminal liability – with no ‘quick fixes’ available.

Inevitably, ethical issues surrounding CAVs also represent a significant challenge as any AI used must be taught how to react in life-threatening situations. This is illustrated by the ‘Trolley Problem’ test where a person must make a moral decision about who lives and dies when an out of control trolley comes down a track towards two sets of people.

With CAVs, the argument put forward by many developers is that, in unavoidable situations, no ethical decision can be made by the AI. Instead, the focus should be on CAVs driving in a way that avoids the ‘Trolley Problem’ in the first place. However, the auto sector must continue to put ethical considerations front and centre to help allay governmental concerns and public fears. It’s why guidelines have already been published – and continue to be developed – by international and regional authorities and organizations.

Harmonize now – or polarize later

Such challenges are exacerbated further by a lack of technological standardization, leading to calls for true global harmonization including a ‘code of practice’ for development and testing. Only by stakeholders from across related sectors coming together and collaborating on all fronts – from technology to regulation – can we hope to deliver on CAV’s massive potential.

The good news? Such collaboration is possible and has been shown to work on a micro level. For instance, NNG works closely with its partners to deliver secure IVI systems that rigorously adhere to several crucial ISOs and best practices, ensuring our complex solutions remain safe and secure – even as threat levels rise.

Ultimately, a failure by the industry to take proactive and positive steps now will only delay CAVs from being green lit to operate on our roads and highways in future. More critically, a lack of action risks leading to public and governmental trust in the technology being irreparably damaged as more and more successful cyber attacks gain negative media traction. It means the time for action and collaboration is now – before we pass the point of no return.

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