News Roundup: Ford Introduces ‘SmartLink’ Connected-Car Plug-In For Older Vehicles, U.S. Lawmakers Consider Car Cybersecurity Bill, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of interesting headlines from the driverless and connected-car worlds over the past week:

Ford designs new device to turn older cars into connected cars

Ford Motor Co. has created a new device called SmartLink that can plug into older cars through the OBD link II and turn them into fully connected cars. The SmartLink includes a 4G LTE modem on board, letting it act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 8 devices in the vehicle. It also enables remote start, lock and unlock functions, and can send alerts to a car owner via a companion web and mobile app to let them check the car’s diagnostic health, and get alerts related to security and service requirements. SmartLink was designed to work with Ford and Lincoln cars built between 2010 and 2016. Read more from TechCrunch.


Driverless bus debuts in Atlanta before embarking on U.S. tour

The Alliance for Transportation Authority offered rides in an autonomous, 12-passenger bus in Atlanta on Thursday to kick off a U.S. tour. The tour, which will take the bus to other major cities in states such as Texas and California. Representatives of the Alliance hope the tour, and free rides on the shuttle, will improve public perception of self-driving cars, which they see as one of the biggest barriers to the implementation of the technology. Read more from the Albuquerque Journal.


U.S. lawmakers introduce bill to study cybersecurity in connected cars

With at least 90 percent of cars on U.S. roads expected to have connected-car features by 2020, U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bipartisan bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to study cybersecurity in vehicles. Named “The Security and Privacy in Your Car Act,” the bill requires the NHTSA to work with the Defense Department, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center, SAE International, and academics and manufacturers in the automotive industry to set a standard for safety in all connected cars. Together, the group will study how to isolate software systems in vehicles, create a system to prevent and detect hacks, determine best practices for storing data and create a timeline for how to implement these standards. Read more from GeekWire.

Photo: Ford SmartLink plug-in / Credit: Ford Motor Co.

News Roundup: Autonomous Tricycle Testing Underway, Apple Reportedly Ditching Plans for Electric Self-Driving Car, and More

Jennifer van der Kleut

A roundup of some of the most interesting industry news headlines from around the world from the past few days:

University of Washington-Bothell making progress on autonomous tricycle

We’ve seen autonomous trucks, buses, shuttles, cars, and last week, a semi-autonomous motorcycle. Headlines this week are showing us an autonomous tricycle, under development by a team at the University of Washington in Bothell. Led by Tyler Folsom, the team says they are hoping to introduce a lighter, less expensive, more environmentally friendly autonomous vehicle for the future of transportation. A small test has already been successful–guided by a remote control, the test cycle managed to pedal itself in a small circle safely. The team reportedly received a $75,000 grant from Amazon Catalyst to develop their technology. Folsom said the team’s target is a price point of around $10,000, making an inexpensive price for college students or families looking to move about more easily, instead of owning a car or depending on public transport, plus the environmental footprint would be practically non-existent. Read more about the autonomous tricycle from New Atlas. Courtesy image by Mark Studer.

Reports: Apple drops plan to build its own autonomous car, instead focusing on platform

If you believe the many rumors news outlets are publishing this week, Apple has reportedly decided to forego manufacturing its own self-driving car, and instead is focusing on building just the autonomous car platform. The New York Times recently reported that Apple had laid off dozens of employees of Project Titan, which was working on developing an electric, autonomous car with a target release date of 2020. The company then reportedly turned around and hired dozens of new employees focusing on artificial intelligence, with a new focus of building its own self-driving platform. In the future, Apple may decide to partner with an established car manufacturer to release its own vehicle. Read more about Project Titan’s new focus on 9 to 5 Mac.

DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge aims to beef up security for IoT devices

According to research firm Gartner, the number of Internet-connected devices has risen nearly 70 percent to over 6.4 billion devices just in the past two years, making a lot of people’s lives more convenient with connected devices ranging from appliances to home thermostats to even clothing, bracelets, watches and more. Unfortunately, that also leaves 6.4 billion ways hackers can target us. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is aiming to combat that risk. In 2013, the agency launched the Cyber Grand Challenge, inviting scientists from all over the world to “create automated digital defense systems that could identify and fix software vulnerabilities on their own — essentially, smart software robots as sentinels for digital security.” The Cyber Grand Challenge was announced in 2013, and qualifying rounds began in 2014. At the outset, more than 100 teams were in the contest. Through a series of elimination rounds, the competitors were winnowed to seven teams that participated in the finals in August in Las Vegas. The three winning teams collected a total of $3.75 million in prize money. Read more about what the teams created and what it means for IoT security from the New York Times.

Army Robotics, Unmanned Tech on the March

Burney Simpson

It’s not called March for nothing.

The U.S. Army this month actively pushed its robotics and autonomous vehicle programs as it tests new equipment and looks for ways to replace men with machines.

Here’s a roundup:

The leader of the army’s robotics group argued that a ‘robotics vanguard’ could replace human soldiers during certain offensive maneuvers.

“There’s no reason why the first contact with an enemy force should be with a man-platform, because it means that platform is at the greatest risk,” Dr. Bob Sadowski said at a robotics conference in March in Springfield, Va., the Army reported.

Sadowski is the robotics leader with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, (TARDEC), in Warren, Mich.

TARDEC oversees the Army’s manned and unmanned ground vehicle systems, and combat service support equipment.

A first offense robot could save lives while providing intelligence on enemy positions, Sadowski said.


The conference also saw a display of a two-armed robot that can diffuse bombs.

Hau Do, leader of a TARDEC robotics development team, noted his group is working with Carnegie Mellon spinoff RE2 Robotics on the project.

The Army now uses one-armed robots to diffuse bombs but they leave a little to be desired.

“Have you ever tried unscrewing a water bottle cap with one arm? You can’t,” Hau Do told the Army press office.

Partners will be able to catch up at TARDEC Industry Days April 26-27, in Warren, Mich.


The Army is reviewing the Squad Maneuver Equipment Transport (SMET), an autonomous or semi-autonomous, vehicle that carries the equipment soldiers need on a 72-hour patrol. The SMET might also be used for perimeter defense once a base is established.

Precise specs haven’t been written, but the vehicle will be powered by a rechargeable battery that can also charge the soldiers equipment as necessary.

The vehicle must be large enough to carry the equipment but small enough to fit in a helicopter, and move through a jungle.


Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited Silicon Valley in March as the Pentagon sought to strengthen its ties with the tech industry. Carter has promoted the 3rd Offset Strategy that relies on new technology to offset enemy advantages in troop size or other strengths.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent Alphabet, was named the chief of an advisory panel that will provide the Defense Department with innovative ideas being developed in the Valley.

Schmidt, who was the only announced panelist, said he had a list of possible members to call.

Carter also gave a boost to collaborative industry/military projects launched last year under the ARCYBER name. These are designed to counter social media threats by various enemies.

One new approach is the teaming of 10 Army cyber (hence ARCYBER) experts with their Silicon Valley counterparts.

In April, a Hacking4Defense program will begin at Stanford University. Students will work with reps from the DoD and various intelligence agencies to apply ‘lean startup principals’ when creating social media products.

Last year’s Army Cyber Innovation Challenge led to vendors supplying defensive infrastructure kits that protect Army cyber protection teams. This month, the Army plans to begin a challenge designed to foment new software that will manage its cloud computing systems.

Navy Teaching Unmanned Subs to Think

Burney Simpson

The U.S. Navy is expanding its work on unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) as part of the military’s focus on cyber-and electronic- warfare.

An unmanned craft from SeeByte uses its Neptune technology to share data with other unmanned vehicles and determine a collective response to a threat. A human operator sets the overall objective for a team of vehicles that use an algorithm to build a plan to meet the objective.

Britain’s Royal Navy also uses products from Edinburgh, Scotland-based SeeByte to operate UUVs developed by Canada and the UK.

The US applied short-range UUVs to gather intelligence in response to Iran’s plans to mine the Persian Gulf, according to the publication Breaking Defense.

The Pentagon’s emphasis on technology and unmanned systems is part of the Third Offset Strategy introduced in 2014 by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. In brief, the idea is to offset the enemy’s strength in one area with a strength of your own in a different area.

Some of the technologies falling under the Third Offset Strategy are robotics and system autonomy, miniaturization, and big data.

The Pentagon’s Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program also is looking to better collaborate with private industry on these technologies.

“We are knee-deep in the Third Offset Strategy discussion… along with our army and air force and DARPA leadership in supporting the (Defense Department’s) focus [on] man-machine interface with cyber, EW, and unmanned systems,” said Rear Admiral Mathias Winter, Breaking Defense reported.

The UUV technology remains in development, and the Pentagon is also working on adapting it to larger vessels operating on longer trips. The Navy plans to test these Long Diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) this summer in an open ocean trip from San Diego to San Francisco.

Send Lawyers, Guns and Driverless Tech

Burney Simpson

Policy makers, regulators and legal departments will find the new “A Look at the Legal Environment for Driverless Vehicles” a valuable introduction and overview of major issues facing the industry.

The free report from the Transportation Research Board uses the word driverless as an umbrella term covering autonomous, automated, connected, and driverless vehicles.

Topics addressed include civil liability, criminal liability, insurance, and privacy and security.

There are also sections on local, state and federal legislation, and administrative regulation. A chapter on sustainability addresses land use, infrastructure, and the environment.

Another section provides historic context by reviewing how regulators once looked at such revolutionary transportation technology as railroads, steamboats and conventional automobiles.

The prepublication version is available as a free PDF.

The authors are Dorothy J. Glancy, Robert W. Peterson, and Kyle F. Graham from the Santa Clara University School of Law in Santa Clara, Calif. Glancy and Peterson are full professors, while Graham is a teacher there who earned some attention last year when he announced he would not seek tenure at the school.

The introduction sums up the report:

 “This report discusses the legal environment that will apply to driverless vehicles. The sections that follow consider how driverless vehicles may fit within or challenge existing rules, and, as relevant and appropriate, suggests how these rules could be modified to better serve the public interest. As a forward looking analysis, this discussion is necessarily speculative, and relies on numerous assumptions regarding matters including how driverless vehicles will operate and how long it will take for them to come into common use. Nevertheless, even at this early juncture, policymakers should benefit from an assessment of how driverless vehicles mesh with the prevailing legal order.” 

The current version is subject to revision. Peterson wrote in an email this month that a section on liability could see some changes to reflect recent announcements by three auto OEMs that they would accept responsibility for accidents when their vehicle is operated in autonomous mode.

Photo by Cal Injury Lawyer, 2015.

Tech CARS Awards Names Best Connected-Car Cybersecurity Companies & Products

Jennifer van der Kleut

One of the biggest concerns both consumers and industry experts alike have expressed when it comes to connected cars is the possibility that hackers could take over a car and crash it, causing harm or death to its drivers and passengers or even to nearby pedestrians or cyclists.

Of course, the biggest example of that concern becoming a reality was the infamous hacking of  Jeep Cherokee. While at first the two renowned hackers–Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, who have since been hired by Uber–just toyed with the windshield wipers and radio, they then committed the ultimate strike by cutting the transmission just as the car reached a long overpass with no shoulder. (Read the driver’s full terrifying account in WIRED)

Even federal lawmakers are getting involved, demanding more research and development into connected-car cybersecurity.

This week, Auto Connected Car News (ACCN) revealed the top companies and products that consumers themselves voted the most promising at solving the connected-car cybersecurity problem, for the Tech CARS Awards.

ACCN gives a profile on each company and a description of their cybersecurity product (with the caveat that, naturally, a complete explanation of how the product protects against hacking cannot be given for safety reasons).

The top four products and companies that received the most votes were:

  • “Aerolink” by Security Innovation
  • “5+1 Security Framework Solution” by Harman
  • Argus Cyber Security
  • WhiteCryption

Read ACCN’s full article on the awards and winners here.

Big Bucks for V2I, V2V in Transport Bill

Burney Simpson

Congress and the President have included millions in funding for autonomous and connected vehicle research and implementation in the just-enacted $305 billion surface transportation bill, a demonstration of the bipartisan support for the technology.

The proposal signed by President Obama last Friday includes 20 major programs related to autonomous and connected vehicle development and implementation, according to ITS America, the Washington, D.C.-based intelligent transportation systems trade group. (An ITS America brief on 20 of the FAST Act’s transportation technology components is available).

The bill, nicknamed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST Act, includes a provision that provides annual funding of $100 million for intelligent transportation systems research with a focus on freight systems and cybersecurity.

Another provision is designed to assist states and localities address the possibly prohibitive costs of deploying Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) and Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication systems. The $60 million grant program will fund five to 10 grants a year for the deployment of this advanced technology to improve safety.

A recent Government Accountability Office report estimated that a V2I site could cost more than $50,000 (“Each V2I Site Could Cost $51,650”).

The FAST Act also includes $67.5 million annually for a technology and innovation deployment program, and a $4.5 billion, five-year grant program to be spent on intelligent transportation systems for freight.

“This bill reflects Congress’ support for the new wave of transportation innovation and its understanding that connected and autonomous vehicles will transform the nation,” said Paul Feenstra, ITS America interim executive vice president.

Feenstra noted that both the U.S. House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill last Thursday, and President Obama signed it on Friday, a sign that innovation in transportation technology has become a bipartisan issue.

Momentum on the topic includes plans by the U.S. Department of Transportation to release guidance next year on V2I to the states and local agencies, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration policy that V2V technology be in all new vehicles, and reports that DOT could soon announce a new automated vehicle policy.


These developments and FAST Act funding answer the question, “How do we get technology out to the field?” said Feenstra.

FAST Act projects without specific funding include a technology deployment program for ITS projects in commercial vehicles, a fleet safety program, and the requirement that auto sales stickers include information about the collision avoidance technology included in the vehicle.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski, a Chicago Democrat and a member of the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, successfully included several of his projects in the finished bill (“Feds Need Interagency Connected Vehicle Office”).

Between $72.5 million to $77.5 million annually will go to the creation of University Transportation Centers that will focus on traffic safety, congestion, connected vehicles, connected infrastructure, and autonomous vehicles. The language is open to interpretation but currently both Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor, fit that definition.

Lipinski also received a commitment that U.S. DOT would create a comprehensive database of its research projects, and that the GAO will research and write an assessment of autonomous transportation technology policies that have been developed by public entities in the U.S.


15th Anniversary escar Europe Conference

Interesting talks, informative workshops, fruitful discussions, and good networking, all at an incredible venue: nhow – The Music and Lifestyle Hotel Berlin.

Escar conference started in 2003 and is the world’s leading automotive cybersecurity conference. Last year the Conference in Cologne, Germany reached the highest number of attendees since it started. The attendees and exhibitors enjoyed insightful and cheerful escar days, interesting talks and good networking.

Modern cars have become complex digital devices and automotive cybersecurity is one of the most important issues. Therefore, the overall goal and objective of escar is to provide a forum for collaboration among private industry, academia, and government regarding modern in-vehicle cybersecurity threats, vulnerabilities and risk mitigation/countermeasures. Escar offers an opportunity for information exchange and networking, and is a platform to define research needs. International and high-quality speakers give recent insights and encourage discussions.
escar conference includes invited talks in the following areas:

  • Security engineering, formal methods, development and validation tools, security standardization and security economics for automotive domains
  • Security of vehicle-driven business, maintenance and service models
  • Identity theft, privacy and data protection issues in vehicular settings
  • Vehicular hardware security and hardware security modules
  • Security of vehicular on-board, passenger, and V2X communications
  • Security of software downloads and open vehicle application platforms
  • Security of vehicular component protection solutions
  • Security of legal car applications (e.g. event data recorder, tachograph)
  • Security of road pricing, restricted areas access and vehicle monitoring
  • Security of vehicle theft prevention and theft response solutions
  • Security of vehicular rights control and audit (e.g., feature activation)
  • Security of future vehicle applications (e.g., electric cars, ITS)
  • Security for other transport systems (e.g., railways, aerospace