by Mark Ollig
If you told me 20 years ago automobiles connected to the Internet would be the topic of a dual US subcommittee hearing in 2015, I would not have been surprised.
In 1995, I predicted telephone and television would eventually be carried over the Internet – how many remember that?
Well, some of you might.
But I digress.
The US House Oversight and Government Reform committee held a hearing Nov. 18 with the Information Technology and the Transportation and Public Assets subcommittees.
They met to discuss issues concerning automobiles’ computing systems being connected to the Internet – and with each other.
Officially, this hearing was called: The Internet of Cars.
Yes, having our cars technically connected with each other, and the Internet, has now become a political issue.
This hearing defined “connected-vehicles” as cars that: “access, consume, create, enrich, direct, and share digital information between businesses, people, organizations, infrastructures, and things.”
I loved how they added “things” at the end of this definition.
It appears cars will become just another electronic “thing” which will make up the Internet of Things (IoT).
The hearing was chaired by US Congressman John Mica, and focused on issues concerning intelligent automobiles, their being linked to each other, and other things, via the Internet.
Testimonies were made by automobile makers: General Motors, Toyota, and Tesla Motors.
Congressman Mica opened the hearing with; “It’s interesting the age that we live in of new technology and communications . . . we have all of the incredible technology that we see and take for granted every day. We’re entering a new era in transportation technology.”
He then joked about how some of the “older” panelists and members of the audience would remember when opening the hood of your car meant you could take out the various parts and identify everything.
I guess more of us are falling into that category now.
Congressman Mica continued, suggesting we almost need to have a PhD degree just to figure out the capabilities of our automobiles.
He said the technical abilities of today’s automobiles are “astounding.”
There is so much new technology in today’s cars we did not have years ago.
I have come to learn this from personal experience.
When I bought my new 2013 automobile, I was amazed by all the technology inside it.
“With all the advanced technology inside this new car . . . I feel I’m driving an iPhone down the highway,” I wrote in my Sept. 2, 2013 column.
When I first took the new car for a test drive, I asked the salesperson where the ignition key was.
She promptly said I didn’t need to start the car with a key – I just needed to have a “fob” (frequency operated button), and press the car’s start button.
Right then and there, I knew driving for me would never be the same again.
Back in the hearing, the members of the subcommittees were presented with circumstances involving vehicle-to-vehicle communications.
Benefits mentioned on having “smart automobiles” communicating with each other included: fewer accidents, lowered fuel consumption, and improvement in commerce.
The concern about having connected-cars was their vulnerability to cyber-attack.
Stark questions arose about the probabilities of computer hackers gaining control over automobiles.
Today’s smart, and connected-vehicles, equipped with electronic capabilities connected to the Internet, can, and I will add; “already have been hacked into.”
A recent car-hacking was into a Jeep made by Chrysler.
This past July, 1.4 million Chrysler automobiles were recalled when it was determined hackers gained control through the Jeep’s Internet-connected entertainment system.
These hackers took over control of a Jeep Cherokee’s computer system by accessing it through the mobile data network the Jeep was networked to.
Using off-the-shelf electronic components and typing out the right programming code, a dedicated hacker had found a way to remotely take control of a vehicle over the Internet.
This is scary stuff, folks.
Now, imagine yours truly happily driving his new, high-tech, Internet-connected-car down the freeway, and preparing to take an exit ramp.
Unbeknownst to me, there’s a small, glowing red light on my GPS display screen.
As I begin to steer towards the freeway exit ramp, the car’s speaker system activates and says; “I’m sorry Mark, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
The car’s computer-control system has been hacked into, and taken over by the HAL 9000 computer from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Indeed. What a nightmare that would be.
On a more serious note; there’s no doubt having verifiable consumer protections installed in vehicles connected to the Internet, or other things, will become a vital necessity.
These protections will need to instill consumer confidence, and ensure safe guarding of our automobiles from hackers.
In fact, our friends at the US Department of Transportation (DOT) were to have a report about enacting safety standards for connected-cars this past July.
During the hearing, it was learned they had not completed it.
This did not sit well with an impatient Congressman Mica.
With measured words, he tersely told the DOT representative; “You can, you will, and will have it [the report] here within 10 days.”
All of us can look forward to reading the DOT’s report very soon.
I felt the question regarding specific government involvement with these car makers during this first Internet of Cars hearing was not fully answered.
The automakers did express their need for freedom to innovate and create the new technologies customers will desire, and have confidence in.
They also stated the importance of working with government agencies to ensure the safety and security of connected-automobiles.
Congressman Mica ended the hearing with; “We want to do the right thing at this important juncture.”
To visit the US Oversight government link to The Internet of Cars hearing, use this shortened URL link I created: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-icars.
Here is the complete, two-hour long, joint-subcommittee video (the hearing begins at the 11:44 minute mark): http://tinyurl.com/bytes-icarvid.
The Bits & Bytes column: “It’s like driving an iPhone” can be read at: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-09022013.