Weekly Brief: $100 gadget hacks GM cars in build up to DefCon Hacker Conference

In this week’s Brief: Samy Kamkar, GM OnStar, DefCon23 Hacker Conference, Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act, Delphi, HellermannTyton, Chevrolet, SAIC Motor, GM, Active Safety Test Area, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, VW, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, MirrorLink, Peloton Trucks, Nokia Growth Partners, DENSO, Volvo and UPS.

Pestilence or public service? That’s the question that comes to mind as yet another hacker exposed yet another software weakness in yet another major carmaker’s in-vehicle software system last week. This time it was hacker Samy Kamkar hacking into GM’s OnStar telematics system. His device is scary: a $100 OwnStar box that can unlock an OnStar-equipped car and start its engine once it comes within WiFi range of Kamkar’s device.

GM has already responded with a software update, but we all are getting a little tired of carmakers responding with software updates after hackers prove how porous their in-vehicle security is, rather than preventing those attacks in the first place. Besides, Kamkar claims that the software fix doesn’t come close to stopping him, as he will demonstrate at next week’s DefCon23 Hacker Conference, which runs from August 6 to 9 in Las Vegas and which features a whole “car hacking village.”

At the same time, perhaps it’s time for research hackers to turn their attention away from embarrassing carmakers toward working with carmakers and government officials to ensure that security systems are as safe as possible, for example in collaboration with the new Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act that U.S. Senators are now discussing.

Of course, that would be far less fun and headline-grabbing.

In other news, auto supplier Delphi acquired cable-management company HellermannTyton for $1.7 billion. The move helps Delphi transition from core car parts, which deliver lower margins, to more lucrative electronics and software at a time when demand for connected mobility is on the rise. It may also set the supplier up to be a full-blown OEM. For more TU-Auto analysis, see “Delphi acquisition a warning shot to carmakers?

Chevrolet put $5 billion toward developing a new connected car family. Details are scant but Chevy says that the new family will target emerging markets like China and Brazil with advanced customer-facing technologies focused on connectivity, safety and fuel efficiency. GM will co-develop the car with SAIC Motor. For more TU-Auto analysis, see “Chevy invests $5Bn in connected vehicles tailored for emerging markets.

GM opened a $14-million, 52-acre Active Safety Test Area at its Milford Proving Ground near Detroit, where safety engineers will develop and test advanced driver assistance systems and vehicle-to-vehicle technologies that help cars communicate with each other. GM says that Chevy, Buick, GMC and Cadillac will offer 22 different active safety technologies across their 2016 model year U.S. lineups, from automatic braking to lane detection to curb view cameras. The facility could be used to test autonomous vehicles in the future.

On the smart parking front, Park Assist launched an interface for driverless cars to get directions to empty parking spaces. Park Assist works with parking garages to streamline efficiencies with sensor-based cameras, so the idea here is to allow driverless cars to query any Park Assist-powered garage and get real time directions to open spots, especially those in places where people are less inclined to walk. The new interface also includes step-by-step walking guidance to lead parkers to their cars.

In infotainment news, VW announced a new Modular Infotainment Platform (MIB II) system that’s available on 2016 models trundling on to U.S. dealer floors as we speak. The system offers three buckets of services: traditional telematics and connected car services (diagnostics, road-side assistance, etc.), advanced navigation and infotainment, and seamless smartphone integration through Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. So much for all the hullabaloo about Apple CarPlay and Android Auto faltering in 2015; with VW, most major carmakers are now on-board for 2016 or in the process of integrating for 2017.

Finally, know how the peloton almost always catches up with those daring break aways on the Tour de France? That’s because bikers pedaling closer together have better aerodynamics and have to expend less energy to ride at fast speeds. Peloton Trucks is harnessing the same laws of physics to make fleets safer and more efficient, albeit in concert with some fancy vehicle-to-vehicle communications, radar-based active braking systems and proprietary vehicle-control algorithms. The company just landed a $15 million investment from Nokia Growth Partners, a fund sponsored by Nokia. Strategic funds from a host of other transportation players, including DENSO, Volvo and UPS, have also invested.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular TU contributor.

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