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Connectivity: Risks and Rewards

By James M. Amend

The first phase of the global mobility revolution is connected vehicles, and chances are, you already drive one. Most vehicles today can connect to the internet with GPS systems or safety and navigation systems like FCA US LLC’s Uconnect, Ford Motor Company’s Sync, and General Motors Co.’s Onstar.

As the software in cars and trucks becomes increasingly connected, concern about its heightened vulnerability to hackers increases among consumers and federal safety watchdogs.

But as automakers advance this technology, they are applying three additional levels of security to protect against cyberattacks. One to the gateway between the car and the outside world, another to the car’s software, and a third to the in-vehicle network.

While measures now exist to safeguard vehicle connectivity, this was not the case as recently as two years ago, says Ami Dotan, co-founder and CEO of Karamba Security, an automotive cybersecurity supplier in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

“It was an afterthought, something that was bolted on rather than built-in,” he says. “You could find holes in it like Swiss cheese, but we have seen a great deal of change.”

Army Collaborates On Cybersecurity Risks
In Southeast Michigan, automakers have found a cybersecurity partner in the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) at the Detroit Arsenal in Warren. The army is developing the latest cybersecurity measures to ensure its ground vehicles, such as tanks and troop carriers, are secure against nefarious activity.

TARDEC shares its cybersecurity work with automakers through Auto-ISAC, a consortium of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), their suppliers, and commercial-vehicle companies collaborating on security features for connected cars and trucks.

“An attack on one is an attack on all,” says Jeffrey Jaczkowski, associate director of ground systems cyber engineering at TARDEC. “We have to address this as a community. The more [information] shared is better for the national defense and our well-being.”

Infrastructure Streamlines Mobility Adaptations
Along with addressing cybersecurity risks, automakers are teaming up with cities to brainstorm ways to link the nation’s transportation infrastructure with new connected vehicle technology.

Several Michigan intersections are outfitted with cameras, radars, and high-speed communication technologies in joint research projects facilitated by the automotive and mobility industry with state, municipal, academic, and business partners. These smart intersections gather and implement data into connected infrastructures to increase road and pedestrian safety and reduce traffic congestions.

Global automotive manufacturer DENSO has deployed these intersections in Southfield and Ann Arbor, Mich. and Dublin, Ohio. Seemingly minor enhancements, such as adjusting the timing of a stoplight, can make a big difference, says Roger Berg, vice president of DENSO North American’s research and development office.

“Now the [municipalities] are getting real-time information for greater accuracy of traffic patterns, and the throughput of the intersection is optimized,” he says.

Macomb County set the bar high when it spent a decade preparing its infrastructure for connected cars, says John Abraham, director of traffic and operations for the department of roads in Macomb County. He argues that the county leads nationally in accommodating connected vehicles.

“What helps is the presence of so many automakers, tier-one suppliers, and startups,” Abraham says.

The county’s centralized traffic and communications center currently connects with 75% of its 735 traffic signals, and by 2022 the entire system will be outfitted with technology compatible with connected vehicles. The command center can detect a crash and time lights for a faster response by emergency services. In the future, the signals will alert drivers to dangerous conditions.

Hurdles on the Horizon
But challenges exist, such as stakeholders coming together on a communications standard. Macomb County is deploying proven dedicated short-range communications technology, while others see a nascent but lower latency 5G cellular connection as the answer.

Cost remains an issue, too, says Paul Ajegba, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. That means deploying incremental steps such as the U.S. 23 Flex Route, where a lane-control system uses cameras and electronic message boards to alert drivers in Washtenaw and Livingston counties when an additional lane is available for use during morning and afternoon peak travel periods.

“It’s not all over the place, and [the connected infrastructure] is being slowly integrated,” Ajegba says, noting a deliberate rollout will give drivers time to acclimate to a connected environment. “In 10 to 15 years, we will have enough money to fix the roads and incorporate new technology.”

James M. Amend is a senior editor at WardsAuto in Southfield, Mich.