Automated vehicle security must be addressed: House of Reps committee

Australia's Industry, Innovations, Science and Resources Committee has recommended an investigation be conducted into the potential vulnerabilities of automated vehicles.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

Issues around data ownership and security, safety ethics, legal liability and insurance, and the future of employment need to be addressed before Australians will be comfortable with automated vehicles, the House of Representatives Industry, Innovations, Science and Resources Committee has said.

After conducting a six-month inquiry into the social issues relating to land-based automated vehicles, the committee has announced its 10 recommendations, with an emphasis on data security.

According to the committee, while public sentiment towards automated vehicles is largely positive -- due to improved road safety outcomes, increased mobility, and access for those unable to drive, as well as improvements to traffic congestion, urban design, and use of time -- there are significant concerns around data, such as the privacy of personal information.

The vulnerability of data to cybersecurity threats was also cited as a concern in the committee's report.

One of the committee's recommendations was hence for the investigation of automated vehicles and associated transport systems by the National Cyber Security Strategy to address potential vulnerabilities, as well as further examination of data rights for consumers, vehicle manufacturers, and third parties such as insurers and government agencies.

"In July 2015, Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles in the US to address a software vulnerability in its systems, following a reported demonstration that allowed security researchers to remotely hack into and control a Jeep Cherokee's engine via its internet-connected entertainment system," the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science noted in its submission to the inquiry.

"The New York Times also reported that the same researchers demonstrated a way to control hundreds of thousands of vehicles remotely from the internet: They were able to track cars by their location, see how fast they were going, and control lights, windshield wipers, navigation, and in some cases brakes and steering."

According to Intel, automated vehicles will generate about 4TB of data -- from cameras, LIDAR, RADAR, and other sensors, including the locations the passenger visits -- for every 90 minutes of operation.

However, there is currently little clarity around data ownership, such as whether automated vehicle passengers, vehicle manufacturers, or other third parties own the data that is being captured, stored, used, and shared.

"The manufacturers may lay claim to that, and likely will lay claim to that sort of data. To that end, I saw an announcement by Ford that they are spending $200 million to convert an assembly factory in Michigan to a data-processing facility. So they are certainly planning on collecting a large amount of data," professor Des Butler from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) said in a submission to the inquiry.

The committee also recommended dropping the use of the terms "driverless vehicles" and "autonomous vehicles" in favour of "automated vehicles" as the standard.

According to the National Transport Commission, "automated" is preferred because it recognises the spectrum of automation -- from driver-assisted to fully automated -- with different policy issues at each level of automation.

The committee's recommendations also involved including the public during trials of automated vehicles, explaining that "unfamiliarity" and "lack of experience" are negatively affecting public acceptance of automated vehicles.

"Part of the disquiet around automated vehicles is an emotional reaction to the inability to understand their decision making or predict their behaviour," QUT stated in its submission.

"Ignorance of the perceptual and decision-making systems of automated vehicles risks them being judged as negligent or reckless agents, or even a public menace."

Telstra agreed, noting in its submission that "to achieve the required level of social acceptance, reliability needs to be demonstrated through pilots and public participation".

The Industry, Innovations, Science and Resources Committee also recommended continued funding of automated vehicle trials with a public transport application in both metropolitan areas and regional locations.

Such trials have been kicked off by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) of Western Australia, which instigated Australia's first driverless electric bus trial in August last year, with the RAC Intellibus supported by both the state government and the City of South Perth.

The South Australian government, in partnership with Adelaide Airport, similarly launched a AU$2.8 million trial of driverless shuttle buses in March to transport passengers to and from the airport's terminal and the long-term carpark.

In August 2017, a driverless shuttle bus then hit New South Wales roads as part of a two-year trial at Sydney Olympic Park.

The committee has additionally recommended that the government consider how the needs of elderly and disabled Australians, as well as those living in regional or rural communities, can be accommodated through automated vehicles.

A 2016 survey conducted by the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) found that the greatest perceived benefit -- identified by 82 percent of respondents -- of automated vehicles would be "mobility for the impaired".

"Australia's ageing population also stands to benefit from new vehicle technology, which provides an effective transport solution and opportunity to maintain a full and independent life rather than the isolation that can come from losing independent mobility," ADVI stated in its submission.

The National Farmers' Federation added that automated vehicles could also help people living in regional and rural locations access healthcare and other services in regional towns with less reliance on their support network.

The committee has also recommended the establishment of a "working party with industry and academic stakeholders" to identify what's required at an industry level to enable the development of automated vehicles, as well as "a dedicated national body or a cross-agency taskforce" to coordinate Australia's preparation for the introduction of land-based automated vehicles.

The national body or cross-agency taskforce, once established, would address concerns around data security, safety ethics, legal liability and insurance, transport accessibility, and the impact of automated vehicles on employment.

The committee lastly called for consistent regulations and policy settings across state and territory governments, as well as standardised road infrastructure across Australia, particularly as it relates to signs and road markings.

"As so many of the committee's witnesses told us, people need to feel that automated vehicles are safe, that their privacy is safeguarded, and that all legal questions are resolved before there will be general social acceptance of automated vehicles," Michelle Landry, chair of the Industry, Innovations, Science and Resources Committee, said in a statement.

Editorial standards