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Las Vegas is making connected autonomous vehicles a major component in its smart cities program. (Terry Costlow)

SAE Connect2Car: Smart cities bring connectivity challenges

Connectivity has become a central focus for automakers—providing myriad benefits today while paving the road for self-driving vehicles. But the challenges associated with connectivity in the emerging 'smart cities' era are numerous.

The Smart Cities movement requires constant communication with vehicles, using their location and speed to activate stoplights, direct traffic to alternate routes and notify first responders when accidents occur, to name a few. Adding all that to the data that automakers and service providers want to send and receive provided plenty of grist for panelists to discuss at SAE’s Connect2Car conference in Las Vegas during CES 2018.

With over 170,000 attendees flooding the city’s already-busy streets, Las Vegas’ programs got much attention.

“We want to know where people are coming from, where they’re going so we can do some predictability analysis,” said Joanna Wadsworth, Program Manager for the City of Las Vegas. “Now we have isolated information. The good news is that some of these siloes are being broken down.”

Standards needed

Many Connect2Car panelists noted that being able to use relevant data is one of the biggest challenges for stakeholders working to improve traffic flow in increasingly congested cities. Smart city proponents envision transportation systems that help commuters choose the right mix of cars, trains, buses and electrified or conventional bikes.

Determining which mode will be most efficient, given changing traffic flows, is a complex task involving huge volumes of data. Making everything available in useful formats will be a huge challenge.

“Cars provide a lot of data and cities have massive amounts of data from stoplights and about intersections, but it’s all been siloed,” noted Steve Crumb, Executive Director, GENIVI Alliance. “We need to be able to share that so we can combine data from cars and cities to know about potential transportation problems.”

GENIVI is working with the Worldwide Web Consortium to help facilitate this type of cooperation. Panelists largely agreed that standards will play a critical role for city planners and auto industry developers.

“New York and Los Angeles each have different systems, and there are differences in Europe and China,” said Matt Jones, Senior Vice President of Software at Virgin Hyperloop One, a startup funded by Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson. “We need open platforms that work for all the cities. I hope everyone can get together and agree on standards—or it will be very hard for app developers to play a role.”

Standards bodies including SAE International and industry groups will have to act fast, the experts asserted, since cities are quickly starting programs, often with public and private funding in the tens of millions of dollars. For example, Columbus, Ohio, more than doubled a $40 million Dept. of Transportation grant with funds form a range of industry partners.

For automakers, security is a requirement tied to connectivity. Protecting vehicle systems from intruders requires a range of preventive technologies arranged to provide defense in depth. Over-the-air updating (OTA) is generally viewed as mandatory, since patches will be needed when vulnerabilities are discovered.

“Any security solution has a half-life,” explained Bryson Bort, CEO at Scythe, a data-security startup. “Once it’s out there, hackers start looking at where the 'eyes' are, how it’s watching for intrusions. We make sure that it doesn’t 'see' what I as a hacker am doing.”

Protecting software is complex, particularly in systems that use hardware and software from a number of companies. Diligent design teams need to examine all that code and ensure that nothing changes when the pieces all come together.

“When I get software, I need to ask about security, and when I provide software to a customer, they should ask me,” said Peter Brown, Chief Automotive Architect, at Wind River Systems. “It’s about four times more expensive to build-in security. You have to generate a lot of data to ensure that all code is identified and you need to make sure there’s no dead code in the final product.”

The legislative component

Privacy issues will also be important when all this information is shared by many user groups. Panelists at Connect2Car noted that automotive industry providers will need to work with legislators to prevent regulations that make it difficult to collect and share useful data.

“We have to get people to understand how data is being used,” offered Regina Hopper, Senior VP Global Public Policy at Gridsmart.

“We can’t have legislators who are afraid to allow these connections because they’re worried about their constituents who are concerned about giving out sharing their information,” Hopper said.

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