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Developers are starting to talk about the software-defined car.
For decades, features have accumulated like cruft in new vehicles: a box here to control the antilock brakes, a module there to run the cruise control radar, and so on. Now engineers and designers are rationalizing the way they go about building new models, taking advantage of much more powerful hardware to consolidate all those discrete functions into a small number of domain controllers.
The behavior of new cars is increasingly defined by software, too. This is merely the progression of a trend that began at the end of the 1970s with the introduction of the first electronic engine control units; today, code controls a car’s engine and transmission (or its electric motors and battery pack), the steering, brakes, suspension, interior and exterior lighting, and more, depending on how new (and how expensive) it is. And those systems are being leveraged for convenience or safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, remote parking, and so on.
Another advantage of the move away from legacy designs is that digital security can be baked in from the start rather than patched onto components (like a car’s central area network) that were never designed with the Internet in mind. “If you design it from scratch, it’s security by design, everything is in by design; you have it there. But keep in mind that, of course, the more software there is in the car, the more risk is there for vulnerabilities, no question about this,” Anhalt said.
“At the same time, they’re a great software system. They’re highly secure. They’re much more secure than a hardware system with a little bit of software. It depends how the whole thing has been designed. And there are so many regulations and EU standards that have been released in the last year, year and a half, that force OEMs to comply with these standards and get security inside,” she said.
I suppose it could end up that way. It could also be a much bigger attack surface, with a lot more hacking possibilities.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.