Driverless cars are likely to be on the road within 15 years, but they are vulnerable to hackers, transport experts have warned
Driverless cars are vulnerable to hackers who could bring cities to a standstill, steal cars remotely or even commit deadly terror attacks, experts have warned.
A new report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) suggests that autonomous vehicles could be on the roads in the next 15 years.
While they are likely to bring benefits, such as increased mobility for the elderly; lower insurance costs and less congestion, there are fears that they may be targeted by cyber terrorists.
Hugh Boyes, a cyber-security expert at the IET, said: “Sadly we’re not that good at writing software today. 98 per cent of applications have series defects.
“If we have the hacker community start to target vehicles in Central London we could imagine a fair amount of chaos on the roads.
“Terrorism is a real risk. So cyber-security of autonomous vehicles will be critical.
“And we’re going to have to consider having black boxes in vehicles in the event of an incident.”
Cars are increasingly becoming more automated with many models now including cruise control; parking assistance and distance monitoring. The average vehicle already contains around 60 microprocessors and more than 10 million lines of software code.
But transport experts at the IET predict a future where people will travel in driverless pods and only take over when something goes wrong. They claim for every 10,000 errors made by drivers, just one error will be committed by a computer. So the new technology could save hundreds of lives a year.
Within 15 years they predict that the performance of cars could be altered to fit the driver. A learner or teenager who has recently passed their test may have their speed limited automatically. However a more experienced driver getting in the same car would be able to travel much faster.
Automated cars could also travel in platoons which would be linked up to traffic light systems to keep them moving and avoid congestion.
They expect car clubs will become more popular, with few people owning their own vehicles. Taxis are likely to become redundant.
Speeding may become a thing of the past as cars are likely to be fitted with speed limiting devices.
And the experts believe that it will allow more people to retire to the countryside because they will have better transport links into towns.
Phil Blythe, professor of Intelligent Transport Systems (CHECK) at Newcastle University, said: “I think it’s an exciting opportunity for the UK. Automation is already here. There is radar to warn you that you are too close to the car in front, various parking assistance and cruise control. What we don’t have is them all joined up together.
“Major cities have optimised road management to the nth degree. They really can’t do much more to improve the road network. This is the next step.”
In July the Department of Transport invited cities to bid for a £10 million to host a driverless car trial. The winners are expected to be announced next week.
Up to three cities will be selected to host the trials from next year (2015) – and each project is expected to last between 18 and 36 months and start in January 2015.
Milton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire, will start trialling driverless pods next year. The cars which will travel at 12mph will operate on designated pathways. The town hopes to have 100 operational by 2017. Driverless pods have been operating at Heathrow Airport since 2011. Google is also developing a self-driving car.
Engineers say the vehicles would not only make roads safer, but could also increase their capacity by allowing cars to operate closer together without crashing.
However last year researchers at the University of California and University of Washington found ways to infect driverless vehicles with computer viruses and cause them to crash by shutting off their lights, killing their engines or slamming on their brakes.
And there are concerns that driverless cars may lead to motorists losing skills which they might need to rely on in an emergency.
Dr Nick Reed of the Transport Research Laboratory said: “The technology is there and it’s coming. Driverless cars could enable you to have a more relaxed journey or read your emails
“And we know that 1.2 million people die on the road globally each year and many where human error was the factor. We know that the world has a growing population. Automation can help us meet the needs of an ageing population.
“But the things that concern me is we already know that drivers get distracted and fatigued and that’s with automation your giving the driver even less to do and the risk is that they will feel more fatigued.
“How do we regain the driver’s attention? And what does this mean for skill degradation. Will drivers become less able to step in if they need to? Will a driver need less training or more training.”
A recent survey in the UK, US and Australia showed that three quarters of people are sceptical about safety.