Tech Chief Calls Driverless Cars “Fully Loaded Weapon”

The CEO of Blackberry has raised serious concerns about the safety of driverless cars, describing them as “fully loaded weapons”.

John Chen, Blackberry’s chief executive, said driverless cars were programmed with more lines of code than a typical fighter jet, allowing more opportunities for hackers to insert malware.

Blackberry is currently developing software for driverless cars in partnership with Baidu, the Chinese internet giant.

“A car could easily be infected with viruses [and] is literally a fully loaded weapon. If hackers can get hold of it, you can imagine what they could do,” he said.

“I can create a car I think is 90 per cent virus free but as soon as that car gets on the road and is being used, those conditions need to be regularly checked,” Mr Chen added.

The codes for a driverless car come from different sources, which exacerbate its vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks.

Fareed Baloch of explained: “A lot can be said about the security of driverless cars. There several security points that can be compromised – from the production of systems (codes) to maintain/ upgrade them.

“Exchange of information will not only take place between vehicle to vehicle but a vehicle to everything. So the security protocols need to encompass wider Internet of Things.”

Hacking transport is not a new phenomenon: In January 2008 a tram in Lodz, Poland, veered to the left, despite the driver turning right. The tram’s cars came skidding off the rails, although mercifully no one was killed. The reason for this incident was not driver error or a technical fault, but a tech-minded teenager who had created a remote transmitter capable of controlling junctions. Having spent months studying the rail system, the fourteen-year-old basically had his own toy train set with real drivers and passengers. He had caused the derailment of four trains, simply because he could.

There is a huge amount of money going into driverless cars from billionaire companies like Google, Apple and Tesla. Despite this, Mr Chen said the concept would take at least another five years to take off commercially.

And he called for governments to set safety standards that the developers can follow during the process of taking their products to market.

“Regulation and safety and security tech need to be established well before I think anyone should allow the cars on the road,” he said. “The self-driving car still has a lot of human error and safety control.”

There are also legal issues surrounding the culpability of drivers vs manufacturers should the vehicle be involved in a collision; something which was raised following the deadly crash of a self-driving Uber car in Arizona.

“If there is a crash, who would the insurance hold liable – the human or the car?” Mr Chen asked.

Following the death in Arizona, dashcam footage was viewed by experts to understand the circumstances regarding the accident.

Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor who studies autonomous vehicles, said his first impression was of “outrage” viewing the video.

“The victim did not come out of nowhere. She’s moving on a dark road, but it’s an open road, so Lidar (laser) and radar should have detected and classified her as a human”, he told the Associated Press.

He added, “Although this video isn’t the full picture, it strongly suggests a failure by Uber’s automated driving system and a lack of due care by Uber’s driver (and by the victim)”.

Another autonomous driving expert agreed with Smith’s assessment.

“The sensors should have detected the pedestrian in this case; the cameras were likely useless but both the radars and the Lidar must have picked up the pedestrian,” Raj Rajkumar, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, told Reuters.

Environmental conditions and even the position of the sun can also affect the ability of the technology to read its surroundings.

“We know in our lab that if the sun is at a certain angle and the wind is blowing a certain way, the road sign is not 100 pc recognisable in a second,” Mr Chan said.

These problems have not hampered investment in autonomous vehicles. Toyota announced plans to invest $500m in Uber in a tie-up to enter the driverless market while Bosch and Daimler are plotting an autonomous car that could challenge US tech giants.

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