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A New Frontier: Car Cloud Computing

Car Cloud Computing: cloud is increasingly becoming part of our daily lives. It started with the virtual cloud where we store our photos and music, which can be easily accessed from any smart device. The “Internet of Things” trend allows us to connect a range of devices using the cloud, from smart appliances to phones, and now, cars.
How has the cloud been integrated into the newer vehicles that are rolling off the production line? How does this movement toward cloud computing change our daily lives? Does this integration present any risks, or should we all be looking forward to our newly integrated cars? These are some of the areas that we’ll explore in the world of the cloud-integrated car.

Web-Based Tools and Toys

The days of popping in a mix-tape when you hop into the car are long past. Today, most of us rely on our phone’s music files or web-based apps like Pandora or Spotify to get our music fix as we’re meandering down the road. Have you ever used your phone’s GPS to navigate an unfamiliar neighbourhood? If yes, then you’ve utilised the joy that is cloud computing.
In newer cars, many of these options are built right into the vehicle’s infrastructure. The GPS gets you where you’re going. The on-demand entertainment keeps you amused on the way. Systems like OnStar make sure you’re taken care of in the event of an accident or breakdown. Starting in 2015, many vehicles now offer 4GLTE integration in the cars themselves. Instead of relying on Wi-Fi or your phone’s internet service, your car can potentially become a portable hotspot for all your cloud-computing needs.
Not all of these applications are purely entertainment based. Sometimes you need cloud access to help you figure out where you’re going. What if you could climb into your car, turn on the voice recognition system and ask, “Take me to the nearest Chinese restaurant”? Car cloud computing integration could make that possible when tied in with the car’s GPS. It could even be integrated with apps like Yelp so you can base your choices on the highest-ranked restaurants in the area.
Most car cloud computing applications are used for entertainment or GPS and have nothing to do with actually operating it. The majority of vehicles on the road today still require a human touch to get you from point A to point B. However, this could be changing very soon.

Autonomous Cars and Cloud Integration

Enter the self-driving car. In July 2016, Tesla made headlines for the first self-driving car fatality when the vehicle’s autopilot failed to distinguish between a white truck and the brightly lit sky. While this was a tragedy, it is the first death directly attributed to a driverless car in over 130 million autopilot miles. Comparatively, human-driven vehicles experience a fatality every 94 million driven miles.
Studies show that 81% of vehicle crashes are caused by some form of human error. This could be as simple as someone looking away from the road for a split second or having one too many beers before heading home for the night. Should autonomous become mainstream, these variables could potentially be avoided.
Can we really reduce the number of car crashes that happen every day by simply removing the human element? Experts say yes. Autonomous vehicles could reduce vehicle-related fatalities by up to 90%, potentially saving upwards of 30,000 lives every year.
This life-saving change relies heavily on car cloud computing integration. Using the cloud, cars can talk to each other to avoid accidents, download up-to-date maps and traffic information, and plot the best and quickest route to your destination.
Today, the few autonomous vehicles on the road function as normal cars and only react to the information that is immediately presented to them, such as the input from their sensors. Car cloud computing  integration can help turn these individual pieces into a functioning whole. Allowing communication between vehicles is the fastest and easiest way to remove the element of human errors and create a network of smart devices capable of predicting and avoiding traffic jams.

Self-Driving Fleets

Ride-sharing companies like Lyft are jumping on the autonomous car bandwagon as well. Most recently, Lyft is partnering with GM to bring self-driving taxis to Austin, Texas. Rather than sitting in awkward silence, or even more awkward conversation with your Lyft driver, you can hire a driverless vehicle to pick you up and drive you to your destination without a single word spoken!
An undertaking like this would have to rely entirely on Car cloud computing integration within the vehicles. The constant exchange of information will ensure that you get to your destination safely. And, you can use the cloud to pay for your ride and make changes to your destination on the go.
A consistent cloud connection is vital because it allows the self-driving car to adapt to constantly changing traffic conditions. Why stay in a traffic jam when you could take the next left and reduce your commute by 30 minutes!
Some international companies are already setting up self-driving fleets in places like Singapore, with plans to expand into Asia, the United States, and Europe by 2020. Self-driving trucks can rapidly change the shipping industry too. Even companies without self-driving fleets can still take advantage of cloud technology to improve efficiency and save money and time. Integrated items—GPS, fuel, mileage, and speed tracking software—can help ensure that your vehicles are driven in a safe and lawful manner.

Traffic Tricks

Cloud computing is still useful even if our vehicles require a human behind the wheel. Traffic control systems can improve their functionality by utilising the information collected, sent, and received by cloud-enabled cars. In turn, this will help alleviate congestion and traffic jams while potentially reducing the number of accidents.
Anyone who has ever driven in rush hour traffic understands the congestion problems many of us face every day. In most cases, the primary cause is a lack of accurate traffic management and control procedures. Current traffic control techniques rely heavily on outdated algorithms and obsolete electro-mechanical controllers. However, they cannot keep up with the volume of cars on the road today.
Car cloud integration and an updated infrastructure could prevent or mitigate the massive traffic problems in our most crowded cities.

Risks of Car Cloud Computing

As with any networked system, there is always a risk when dealing with cloud-integrated systems. Just recently, one of the biggest DNS server farms in America was the target of the biggest distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack in history. The source? Unsecured cloud integrated IoT devices. Hackers took advantage of unchanged default passwords on smart refrigerators and other IoT devices. Using the unsecured IP addresses, they bombarded DNS servers and blocked access to some of the internet’s most popular sites.
Even the FBI has warned that the idea of car hacking presents a real risk to drivers in cloud-integrated cars. To date, there are no actual instances of car hacking. The 2015 stunt pulled by a couple of hackers to showcase vulnerabilities in Jeep’s integrated Wi-Fi system doesn’t count.
While cloud systems are designed to be as secure as possible, the human element opens the door for error. Backdoors, vulnerabilities, and other problems could allow a cloud-enabled vehicle to be taken over while on the road.
Cloud systems are designed to prevent this sort of takeover, but there should be redundancies in place as well, including:

  • Manual Control Options: Don’t build an autonomous car without a steering wheel, no matter how tempting it may be. The human driver or passengers should be able to take control of the vehicle at any time, especially in the event of a cloud failure or hostile takeover.
  • Cloud Shut Off: Self-driving cars should also have a switch that disconnects it from the cloud or any external input. Think of it as putting the car in airplane mode. You’ll have to drive, but it prevents any nefarious hackers from taking control of your vehicle.

It’s not possible to completely secure any cloud-based system, at least not yet. However, there are many ways to ensure passenger safety in the event of a hack or other security breach.

Cloud-Based Car Safety Tips

As a driver, there are also steps that you can take to prevent malicious attacks from compromising your commute:

  1. Change the default password on any and all of your integrated devices. That default password is the first thing hackers will use when they’re trying to compromise your system. Don’t make it easy for them.
  2. Only plug in trusted devices. If you receive a USB drive from your vehicle manufacturer, call them immediately to verify that it’s a legitimate upgrade.
  3. Always be aware of your car. It’s easy to take our cars for granted when we’re cruising down the road. However, you should always be aware of the way your car looks, sounds, and moves. If something doesn’t feel right or starts acting strangely, don’t hesitate to pull over and make sure everything is OK.

White Hats to the Rescue

White hats are a subset of hackers who use their skills to discover security issues before they can be exploited. Their skills will be invaluable once cloud-integrated cars become more and more common. Ideally, the white hats won’t find any areas that could be exploited. However, if weaknesses exist, it’s better to find out before they put drivers in danger.
The best thing we can do is remain vigilant and design cars with plenty of redundancies that don’t rely on the cloud. Car cloud computing integration is going to become mainstream and will likely be included in all new cars before too long. Like any advancement in technology, it comes with its own brand of risk. All we can do is take every possible step to mitigate those risks before they become problems.
Overall, car cloud integration in cars can offer many benefits and potentially save lives.  The benefits outweigh any of the risks that might crop up. You may be calling a driverless Uber or Lyft to take you to work or home from the bar before you know it.

Written by

Scott Huntington writes for Tech Cocktail, Business Insider, Forbes, and more. Follow him on Twitter at @SMHuntington.

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