TU-Automotive Detroit 2019 Day 1: Safety takes center stage as the industry grapples with security, autonomy and more

Safety is a critical part of mobility, and yet everyone knows their next car ride could be their last. It’s become the norm; not just in one city or region but throughout the entire world.

“We think this is somehow okay,” said Roger Lanctot, director of automotive connected mobility at Strategy Analytics. “We don’t even think twice about it. This is an unacceptable reality for a mass-market consumer product.”

Lanctot said that if any other industry generated even a fraction of the daily fatalities incurred by automobiles, “That industry would cease to exist.” The level of consumer acceptance could be especially problematic as the auto industry hurls toward varying degrees of autonomy.

Chuck Brokish, director of automotive business development at Green Hills Software, was particularly troubled by the way the auto industry previously separated safety and security. He said it’s a problem that afflicts virtually all industries – even nuclear power plants, which have had safety standards since the 1950s but lacked proper security protocols until 9/11.

Even when safety and security are implemented, OEMs are still too slow to respond. Brokish noted that ISO 26262 ASIL (Automotive Safety Integrity Level) was passed in 2011, but the first ASIL-rated software didn’t make its way into automobiles until 2019. That eight-year gap leaves a lot of room for issues that could occur in between, especially as mobility evolves – and with it, the need for new standards.

Unfortunately, it can take a catastrophic event – even one as benign as vulnerabilities discovered and demonstrated by white hat hackers – to get an industry to move faster. This proved to be the case when the Jeep hack occurred in 2015.

“What really changed was the car in the ditch,” said Denis Cosgrove, principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, referencing the Jeep that was hacked by researchers. “Since then there have been other issues that occurred. These have been dealt with in the industry, but nothing has been as significant as that car in the ditch moment.”

Cosgrove speculated about why there haven’t been any comparable hacks, from researchers or malicious individuals, since that time. He theorized that the target – motor vehicles – is simply not as attractive as bank and credit information, or any data than an insurer might hold. He also wondered if the disparate platforms – vehicles are far from a unified solution like Windows or Linux – have helped deter some cyber threats.

His scariest theory of all, however, was that hacks have occurred and that vulnerabilities have been found but no one knows it yet. He pondered the idea that a malicious threat actor might not want to reveal its capability, which would cause a rush to patch vulnerabilities that others have yet to uncover.

“It is certainly possible that some of that activity is happening,” said Cosgrove, adding that there is one more possibility: that additional Jeep-like hacks are being prevented before they occur. He said that while the auto industry hasn’t been perfect, OEMs have implemented “significant” changes over the past four years.

The talk of the town

Another hot topic was the advent of speech and voice recognition within the car.

Jacek Spiewla, user experience manager at Mitsubishi Electric, said that the progress of voice-activated technology has been an “amazing journey” that underscores the importance of mitigating driver distraction.

“And ways to keep people safe while they’re driving while we await this coming of autonomy,” Spiewla added. “It’s acting as a modality with which to best communicate with artificial intelligence. The way we perceive speech is that this will be the primary modality that you interact with.” Though visual and other types of interactivity will certainly play a role.

Shyamala Prayaga, user experience evangelist for Ford Motor Company, believes that with autonomous vehicles moving forward, speech technology has to keep evolving. She also said that speech is the key to finding new opportunities within the vehicle and is particularly interested in how it could react to different situations. If she’s running late for a meeting, for example, the car could communicate directly with her – tell her where to navigate to make up for lost time. She said these kinds of features would be perceived as being smart, not intrusive, to consumers.

However, one of the biggest challenges could involve the struggle to mirror the in-home experience inside the vehicle. Dan Roarty, COO of Arrive, a company that delivers last-mile mobility solutions, is paying very close attention to this aspect.

“Much like the battle at home, which hasn’t been won by any means, there’s a lot of choice,” said Roarty. “If consumers have a great relationship with their assistant or technology in their pocket or home speaker, they’re going to expect that in some way it’s available to them in a vehicle.”

Those concerns were not lost on Nada Jiddou, director of consumer platforms and products for Ford Smart Mobility. She said that one of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to seamlessly transform and/or transition a consumers’ digital life into the vehicle cockpit.

“One other aspect of it is; how do you also have a branded experience while maintaining some of your competitiveness with some of the advancements?” Jiddou questioned. “Voice itself is developing at a rapid pace in the recent two to three years. And we’ve seen natural language recognition becoming a lot more usable.” But, she added, there is a lot more that has to happen in order for consumers to be able to carry their experience into the vehicle.

Oddy Khamharn, director of automotive connectivity at Chamberlain Group, is more concerned with the hardware aspect. Between outside noises (automobiles aren’t known for being a quiet environment), microphone placement and overall microphone sensitivity, he would like to see some improvements to the hardware.

Other day 1 highlights

Ride-hailing concepts and services continued to be a popular discussion among the speakers and panelists, just as its popularity continues to grow with consumers.

Mark Boyadjis, global technology lead for automotive advisory services at IHS Markit, said there were an estimated 14 million ride-hail rides last year. Ten million of them came from China.

“That represents almost one percent of all vehicle miles traveled globally last year,” said Boyadjis. “That is a significant number. One mile for every 100 was in a ride-hail. I think that’s a compelling piece for anyone who is in this industry to be looking at where the evolution of mobility is going. The US had about 2.3 billion itself – a big market but nothing compared to China.”

Tasha McCall, director of security and fraud solutions at First Data Corporation, addressed a problem most consumers are unaware of: the risk of data being left behind in shared or rented vehicles.

 “Think about when you get into a car you’ve rented and you connect your Bluetooth,” said McCall, explaining that a wide range of personal data – name, address, contacts – could stay in the dashboard. “We’ve learned that PII (personally identifiable information) data is also critical to protect. When it’s not secured properly, it’s easy for hackers to access that information.”

From there malicious threat actors can create something McCall referred to as “synthetic identities” – individuals that do not technically exist but are created using a consumer’s data to take out loans or mortgages in that person’s name.

“It really creates havoc for the consumer,” McCall added. “And why it’s important to you is, when a customer gets into a car, they expect that information [is] protected. If you’re not able to protect that information, it’s really a brand reputation loss.”

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