Self-Driving Cars and the Blockchain: Will Our Vehicles Be Safe?

It goes without saying that driverless cars are completely reliant on a computer. In fact, that’s their actual goal. We also know from experience that computers can be hacked. Getting locked out of our email is annoying; having an unknown person take control of our car is downright scary.

The technology that enables driverless cars is on the brink of success. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Velodyne (among others) are racing to produce systems that guide cars with safety and accuracy, to prevent things like car accident injuries, while also protecting them from security vulnerabilities.

Driverless Cars Are Coming

Forecasts for mass production of driverless cars vary, though the consensus points to consumer mass market availability within the next decade. The main factors slowing down the routine appearance of driverless cars are:

  • Cost – The tech runs over $75K per vehicle, not including the price of the car.
  • Legality – Laws will need to be changed to allow autonomous vehicles to operate freely.
  • Style – In the consumer market, looks matter; driverless cars are not attractive yet.

These issues will resolve themselves in time. Once the industry agrees on best technologies and standards, costs will go down as the focus turns to efficient production.

From a public policy point of view, governments are widely supportive of the concepts and technology. The Self Drive Act has near unanimous support in the US Congress. And, as with all things computer-driven, miniaturization will lead to less visible mechanics allowing for better styling.

Consumer Confidence Will Be Key to Driverless Car Success

Consumer confidence is truly at stake for the driverless car industry. Researchers at the University of Michigan Research Institute conducted a survey of consumer concerns and discovered that a third of respondents showed unease about hacking.

A remarkable 78% to 88% showed at least a slight concern, with 40% responding as being very concerned. Manufacturers will need to overcome this perception before widespread adoption can occur.

Blockchain technology may be the answer. We hear the term often used in conjunction with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but the technology has the potential for many other applications. While complex in function, the concept for blockchain is straightforward.

How Blockchain Works

Most data exchange on the internet uses a record-keeping method called centralized ledgers. A centralized ledger records and disseminates data to a central database controlled by its administrators. These ledgers are, unfortunately, often prone to hacking.

Blockchain, however, works on a distributed ledger system, meaning the information is exchanged and recorded within a highly secure closed system. A critical feature is the lack of necessity in accessing sources outside the system or releasing control to an administer. In a certain respect, the system is able to administer itself.

Blockchain Will Enhance Cybersecurity

For driverless car privacy and security, the benefits are potentially enormous. Blockchain is effectively unhackable. It would take enormous computational power to hack even one access point to the system, and no single access point is enough to do damage. The system is so solid that it remains outside the bounds of concern.

The reason cryptocurrencies use blockchain is the same reason it will benefit driverless technology: it’s secure. A hacker won’t be able to access the systems that control the vehicle.

In all likelihood, driverless cars will also make use of personal information, such as preferred destinations, credit and banking information for paying for taxi rides or tolls, or voice-enabled mobile devices with our private contacts. All of this sensitive data can be protected by blockchain.

As we move toward a driverless society, cybersecurity will be paramount for establishing consumer confidence and trust. With blockchain technology, we can look forward to a future that may virtually eliminate car crashes, saving time, money, and lives.

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