LONDON — Self-driving cars could be seen on the streets of Britain from next year, but according to the Institute of Engineering and Technology's cyber-security lead they could be vulnerable to attack from hackers.
Speaking at the launch of an IET report on the future of autonomous vehicles, Hugh Boyes warned that software systems must become more reliable before the public can have confidence in computer-controlled vehicles.
“If ultimately you want to use autonomous vehicles, we need to make sure they don’t have a defect.” Boyes believes that while the motor industry is strong on safety, they're not fully aware of the potential danger and disruption hackers could pose. If the hacker community starts to target vehicles there could be a "fair amount of chaos," he warned.“If ultimately you want to use autonomous vehicles, we need to make sure they don’t have a defect.”
"We just have to look at what happens in London when one vehicle breaks down on a major artery into the city; the tailbacks that rapidly occur," he said.
"If just one in a 100 vehicles, or one in 1,000, gets interfered with and ceases to operate as planned we can expect chaos on the roads. We don't want to be there. That's why cyber-security of autonomous vehicles will be critical."
The UK government launched an initiative to fast track driverless cars onto Britain's roads this summer, announcing a £10 million scheme calling for cities to put forward proposals to become test locations for trials. Up to three cities will be selected to host the trials from early 2015, with each project expected to last between 18 and 36 months.
"The excellence of our scientists and engineers has established the UK as a pioneer in the development of driverless vehicles through pilot projects," Vince Cable said at the launch in July.
Claire Perry, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, was equally as positive.
"Driverless cars have huge potential to transform the UK’s transport network – they could improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, particularly CO2," she said.
British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover has this week pledged to produce a self-driving car within ten years. The Coventry-based car manufacturer used its submission to the Commons Transport Committee to announce its intentions, pointing out that it already incorporates automation into its design — new vehicles can apply the breaks automatically if they're in danger of crashing.
Volvo, meanwhile, is hoping to lease 100 of their Drive Me semi-automated cars to Gothenburg residents by 2017, and Mercedes recently revealed designs for a luxury driverless car to be unveiled at next year's CES.
In Milton Keynes, 100 driving pods - similar to those at Heathrow - are set to start navigating the town's pathways soon.