Barriers Facing the Builders of the Smart City

A series of challenges remain for the key technologies to an autonomous future, among them fast moving technological developments and lack of consumer understanding.

Architecturally speaking, there should be no change because these types of communications technologies are going to use the existing cell connection embedded in the car, explained Strategy Analytics analyst Roger Lanctot. However, there are some signification additional requirements, in terms of number of antennae, their placement and how those sensors and notifications will be integrated into a central point in the vehicle.

He said: “There has always been a question of where do you put the connectivity device? Into the shark fin antenna module, in a separate box, and different automakers are taking different paths to market,” he said. “With a growing number of cars using a significant processing core, like an SoC from an Nvidia or Intel or Qualcomm, there’s a movement towards a more centralized architecture in the car and a shift to Ethernet in the car, with faster connections leading to the processor.”

Lanctot noted some processor manufacturers, like Qualcomm, have a device that incorporates wireless connectivity, which is shared by multiple systems in the car. “The idea to have it discreet in its own box, because it allows the case for upgradability in the future, where you might not replace the SoC but the wireless module,” he said. “Bottom line is, the need for more communication between systems, and vehicles, is changing the thinking about connectivity completely.”

He said the onset of 5G and CV2X has “rocked” the intelligent transportation industry and really forced all the players to the table, from wireless carriers to automakers and their supply chain, the semiconductor industry and the Department of Transportation. “They’ve been forced to look at this as a common problem that they needed to solve together if they’re going to speed this tech to market, scale up its adoption, and exploit the value proposition of enhanced traffic management and safety issues,” he said.

Sam Lauzon, an automotive cybersecurity software developer in the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) Engineering Systems Group, noted in the Ann Arbor market, his team has set up an V2X network that allows them to equip vehicles with third party units, which can interact with each other, or pubic connected infrastructure like streetlights, to collect that data but noted the project is still limited to participants within the program.

“That means there isn’t a whole lot of data as to how all vehicles can benefit from this type of communication and connectivity,” he said. “V2X will never be the sole answer, because every vehicle can’t be retroactively equipped, and there will always be a few vehicles out there that are likely not on the network.”

Lauzon said it’s difficult at the moment for automakers, their manufacturing partners, and governments to align on one approach, because there are a number of questions up in the air regarding regulation, responsibly, and cost. “The fusion algorithms being used in the vehicles are not public knowledge, in that, all the signals from each of the sensors are sent into a black box where a decision is made,” he said. “Vehicles incorporate software updates in such a way that you may be running a different version of software tomorrow than you are today and another different version on Friday, if the automaker sends updates that frequently.”

Lauzon also pointed out sensor cyber-security is a key issue, including scenarios whereby someone may be able to manipulate sensors from outside the vehicle. “These attacks could have a huge impact on the way automated vehicle decision making is carried out,” he explained. “If one sensor is unknowingly compromised resulting in the sensor fusion algorithm taking incorrect actions as a result.”

In a recent test, his team was able to trick cameras with incorrect signage and physically damage them using off-the-shelf equipment (higher powered laser pointers). “We were also able to manipulate radar and lidar sensors in various ways, some more technical than others,” Lauzon said. “The same could be said for V2X related data.”

If the data is compromised in some way, automakers have to consider the impacts on the vehicle’s control system and decision making processes, also what questions are raised in having it share networks, as well as how will end of life be handled. Many of the suggested tactics proposed concern the on-board unit (OBU) in a vehicle to stop transmitting if it becomes blacklisted or is identified as being incorrect or poorly calibrated.

However, as Lauzon pointed out, an attacker with basic knowledge may be able to perform DoS attacks against the system, which could create a bottleneck at the certification authentication stage and render all messages during that time useless/stale by the time they’re received and authenticated. “These types of attacks are mostly localized to the attacker’s radio or position but in the event the RSU network (generally operated by the municipality) is compromised, there could be widespread problems,” he explained. “It becomes really technically complex, really fast.”

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