The key to safe roads is sound public key infrastructure! That’s what we’ll be saying some day. And that day may come sooner than you think.
Research and development has been done on autonomous cars (autonomous automobiles?) for decades now. In recent years, semi-autonomous and fully autonomous cars have been tested on the roads.
BMW have been testing their autonomous cars on the streets of Germany since 2005. Volkswagen has been testing their Temporary Auto Pilot system since 2012. Those vehicles aren’t fully autonomous, but can go into an AI-driven mode for limited periods of time. Ford has been testing fully autonomous vehicles for several years now, but they have kept some details to themselves. Ford autonomous vehicle specialist Jim McBride said, “There is no technology barrier from going where we are now to the autonomous car. There are affordability issues, but the big barrier to overcome is customer acceptance.”
By the time Google stepped into the game in 2014, the future of fully autonomous cars seemed sooner than ever. The project has since been spun-off into Waymo, the autonomous vehicle division of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. Near the end of 2017, significant progress had been made. Waymo started to test fully autonomous cars on real roads. They announced: “Starting now, Waymo's fully self-driving vehicles—our safest, most advanced vehicles on the road today—are test-driving on public roads, without anyone in the driver's seat.”
By 2015, Tesla started to update the software of many of their vehicles in preparation for autonomous functionality. By 2016, another software update allowed cars to “self park” without human driver assistance. I’ve never driven a real car, but as a passenger I’ve always noticed that people hate having to look for a parking space! Apparently parallel parking is especially challenging. Even shifting just that responsibility from humans to AI is probably revolutionary for motorists. By October of 2016, Tesla said that all of the cars they’re manufacturing have all of the hardware necessary for full AI-controlled driving.
In the development of semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles, it helps to understand the automation levels that are being used to describe how much of the car’s functions are being operated by humans and how much are being operated by AI.
Automation level 0 should be familiar to all of us. They are cars that are completely operated by humans. Until about twenty years ago, all cars were in this category.
At automation level 1, AI just helps a human driver with eithersteering oracceleration and deceleration, using information about the driving environment. Cars at this level have been out of the research and development phase for a while now and many of the new cars on the road right now are in this category.
Automation level 2 goes just a bit beyond level 1, with AI-assisted steering andacceleration and deceleration.
Cars at automation level 3 can be completely AI-driven for limited periods of time. A human driver must pay close attention to how the car is being driven so they can intervene frequently.
At automation level 4, AI does most of the driving. A human is still expected to be in the driver’s seat to intervene at times. If a human doesn’t intervene appropriately when requested, the AI will make the decision about how to operate the car. AI will usually be completely in control unless the car is outside of a certain area or there are challenging weather conditions.
Cars at automation level 5 are fully autonomous. AI will drive the car completely, regardless of where the car is or what the weather is like. The option for human intervention remains in case something goes wrong.
Securing these semi-autonomous and fully autonomous cars is incredibly important, because if there’s a problem, the consequence could be death. People have died in accidents involving autonomous cars already. The first known death from a car that was driving itself took place in May 2016 from a Tesla Model S electric car that was operating in Autopilot mode in the state of Florida. The human in the driver’s seat of the Tesla was killed by a collision with an 18-wheeler truck. The first known death of a pedestrian from a malfunctioning self-driven car took place in March 2018. The car was being tested by Uber and the accident took place in Arizona.
BlackBerry is now making sure that there’s proper technology to prevent autonomous cars from being cyber attacked. The certificate system that the Canadian company is developing is designed to secure both autonomous vehicles and smart cities. Smart cities are urban projects of living and working spaces that are driven by Internet of Things (IoT) technology. As autonomous cars use the internet, they’re another example of IoT tech.
BlackBerry’s Security Credential Management System (SCMS) features a robust Public Key Infrastructure. This announcement comes nearly three years after they launched their QNX Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Centre with an investment of nearly $100 million CAD. Earlier in 2018, BlackBerry announced Jarvis, cybersecurity software that scans autonomous vehicles and related IoT for vulnerabilities, providing suggestions for patches and mitigation.
BlackBerry Certicom Product Group head Jim Alfred says that SCMS may compliment Jarvis, but it’s separate technology with different functionality. “It’s completely different. SCMS is a custom PKI issuing custom certificates that will then be used to vehicle communications modules.” So Jarvis is vulnerability management while SCMS is machine identity management for IoT cars and IoT civic infrastructure, as in for smart cities.
An example of a smart city project in development is right in my backyard, Sidewalk Labs’ Sidewalk Toronto. The people behind Sidewalk Labs have said that the smart city will be ready for fully autonomous vehicles. Sidewalk Labs is another entity of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. Here’s how Sidewalk Toronto’s website describes the project:
>“The Eastern Waterfront (of Toronto) will be a new type of place that combines the best in urban design with the latest in digital technology to address some of the biggest challenges facing cities, including energy use, housing affordability, and transportation.
It will be a place that embraces adaptable buildings and new construction methods to make housing and retail space more affordable. A place where people-centred street designs and a range of transportation options make getting around more affordable, safe, and convenient than the private car. A place that encourages innovation around energy, waste, and other environmental challenges to protect the planet. A place where public spaces welcome families to enjoy the outdoors all day and all night and where community ties are strong. A place that’s enhanced by digital technology and data, without giving up the privacy and security that everyone deserves.”
That’s a lot of hype and idealism. Can BlackBerry’s Security Credential Management System (SCMS) Public Key Infrastructure and certificates help maintain cybersecurity where our lives will be so dependent on IoT? Only time will tell.