Securing Connected Cars, One Chip At A Time


Robert Vamosi, Contributor

March 24, 2015

Within the next 5-10 years, there will be vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications within various smart cities, with cars talking among each other and with stationary roadside objects such as traffic signals. Presently such communications are designed to be open. But what if that open V2V communication also happened not be secure?

“The first thing that I would do is put a little beacon in front of my house and say there is an accident, please take the alternate detour and so you take a nice detour around my house and I have my nice quiet environment,” said Lars Reger, Vice President Strategy, New Business, and R&D for the Automotive business unit at NXP. “Or I would fake that I’m an ambulance and I would be ten minutes faster in the office than you.”

Of course that’s not how V2V communications will be. While emphasizing that traffic communications can’t be encrypted, Reger said the security would be included in the authentication of “authorized traffic participants.” He described a system that would be PKI-like, with a standardized security certificate, using, perhaps, NXPs own line of banking card controllers except these would be automotive qualified. “So basically you will have the same crypto hardware as a bank to make sure you have proper authentication.”

V2V communication, Reger said, will be handled through 802.11p, an enhanced WiFi standard designed for vehicular scenarios. 802.11p allows for longer range, up to one mile, and can create ad hoc networks between similarly-enabled cars.

As for privacy, Reger’s communication model would also not identify the car owner or the driver, nor would it specify which car it is on the road, only that one or more V2V-enabled cars are on the road.

“This type of intelligent traffic management leads to a way smoother driving on normal roads,” Reger said. “It leads to less congested traffic, smother traffic flow, and avoids jams but also avoids accidents. “If I have truck in front of me and I want to overtake it with my BMW car it would be fantastic if my car [driving on a two lane country road] gets a warning immediately that a motorcycle going 200 kph is approaching on the other lane. So these are the types of nasty, fatal accidents we hope to avoid with this technology.” He said accidents could be reduced by up to one third.

If one assumes all the traffic lights in a given city also have smart technology, Reger said, then you can start to do municipal transit acceleration in cities. “The bus can notify a traffic light that ‘Hey, I’m coming please make sure that when you are in the exact middle of the next green light, when I want to pass you by.’” Another advantage to intelligent traffic lights is that RFID tags in school bags can detect school kids approaching a crosswalk or whenever someone runs randomly across the road. The traffic light will send an emergency signal to all the vehicles that are approaching and go red.

Reger said using this technology interstate trucking companies could also save fuel drafting on the freeway by lining up to ten trucks in a row. “The key is that you be as close as possible,” he said. “That is highly dangerous because if the first truck doesn’t signal an emergency brake, then the others are crashing behind. If first one sees an obstacle, from the radar system or the camera systems, then has to warn all the others behind it to at least increase the distance if not pull an emergency brake.”

Integral to this are “interfaces,” what Reger calls the various data pipes within a typical car. “Inside the car you have typically a wiring harness and then you have a little chip that is receiving what is coming from the wiring harness, the physical layer. Next to the chip sits a microcontroller. NXP is not the microcontroller company but we are providing these physical-layer chips … They are very robust pieces of electronics, data pumps so to say. We are dealing with all sorts of data pumps between the analog signal and the digital microcontroller world.”

What NXP showed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year was an automotive Ethernet with a dual antenna system on the roof of your car for improved reception quality. “We’re trying to drive a total different electronic appearance of the architecture of the car,” he said.

When pressed when this future might occur, Reger is clear: 5-10 years from now. “You will see first use case happening soon but to really see the benefits, 5 years to 10 years.” He said that NXP is talking not only to the automotive industry but to cities that want to be perceived as smart cities.

For example Reger’s home town of Hamburg is currently undergoing $270 million Euro worth of road construction for public transport acceleration. He said to build a V2V-system infrastructure for all cars and buses in Hamburg would probably end up at a cost of $2 billion Euro. “So we are heavily lobbying here to use intelligent electronics but as you know cities are not moving at light speed for those programs. So what I would suggest is that within the next 5- 10 years we will see enough infrastructure and enough cars on the road so you would really see benefits other than monitoring the traffic flow.”

This article was written by Robert Vamosi from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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