The Connected Car: Safety, Security and Convenience

The Connected Car- Safety, Security and Convenience .jpg

By Grant Courville

Connected car technology has been around at least since the mid-1990s, when GM’s OnStar system debuted in 1996. Fast-forward two decades and the connected car is finally shifting into high gear – with advances in technology that offer improved safety, security and convenience on the road.

Most people think of the connected car as one that is connected to the Internet or some external service for information and entertainment, navigation, and, increasingly, safety. Inside the car, you can connect your smartphone or other device to your infotainment system and hands-free system via Bluetooth or USB, or use WiFi for vehicles with built-in hotspot capabilities.

Connectivity opens the road to a digital future that significantly enhances the automotive experience. The following is a look at some of the key ways connectivity is transforming our vehicles along with some insights about data privacy, safety and security that will be critical to the future of the software-defined car.

Safety: Responding to and avoiding emergencies

Emergency response was among the earliest use cases for connectivity and it remains core to the experience. Systems like OnStar use cellular connectivity and satellite GPS information when communicating with first responders in case of an accident or breakdown. As of next year, every new car in Europe will be required to have eCall capability, an emergency call system. Essentially, this service has a modem in the car that is used to contact a first responder center, known as a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), either manually or automatically. The modem then sends the information needed by the emergency services to handle the emergency situation, such as the vehicle identification number (VIN), time of incident, and the direction of travel, among other information.

Beyond after-the-fact emergency services, new cars are increasingly being equipped with sensors that assist with preventing accidents before they occur. For instance the U.S. Department of Transportation has recently proposed rules that would require cars to "talk" to each other. Assuming the rule goes into effect in 2019 as planned, automakers would be required to begin building vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology into their cars in 2021, ensuring that all cars will be equipped by 2023.

That has the potential to make our neighborhoods and streets vastly safer. Consider a blind intersection where you're driving from north to south, while someone else is going east to west, and the east-west driver is not really paying attention to an upcoming four-way stop. If the cars are talking to each other, the north-south car could notice that the other car is not slowing down and could alter the driver and even apply the brakes to avoid a collision. Similarly, vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology can alert your car – and you – that an upcoming traffic light is about to turn red so that you can slow down.

The software revolution: Coding the car of the future

Today’s high-end cars contain more than 100 million lines of software code – more code than in the space shuttle, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and Microsoft Office combined.

Not surprisingly perhaps, that means that an increasing percentage of recalls by automakers are due specifically to software – with no easy way to get that software update to car owners short of the traditional visit to the dealership. That will change over the next five years as 180 million new cars support over-the-air software updates for vehicle functionality, enabling software updates to be delivered to the vehicle automatically and seamlessly, providing for new functionality, as well as safety and security upgrades.

Software-enabled cars also mean that if your vehicle is experiencing a failure of a sensor or something mechanical or electronic, the vehicle can alert you with much more detail than in the past. So instead of just getting an engine warning light as we do today, you'd get more information about what’s going on and potentially be directed to your local dealership for a repair.

The combination of software and connectivity also unlocks dramatic improvements in navigation and mapping technology. The LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors used to enable autonomous drive functionality coupled with cameras in the car mean that autos will be gathering information about the world around them. A car equipped with LiDAR, RADAR (RAdio Direction and Ranging) and cameras would be able to alert you about an upcoming traffic jam and if traffic is being directed to merge from three lanes to two.

Data privacy and security: Insights from our mobile world

Using a smartphone today means giving up some privacy. Handset manufacturers and app developers gather anonymized information about the phone and our use of it to tailor products and services (and yes, advertising) to us. For instance, permitting an app like Waze to know your location means that you are making a decision that the value you derive from this app outweighs your privacy concerns pertaining to your location on your commute.

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There's a similar analogy with the car. Just as you click on an ‘I Agree’ tab for mobile app permissions, you’ll likely be doing that in one way or another to enable certain services, perhaps at very granular levels. This is still an item under discussion and an area where we can learn from the mobile industry.

As connectivity becomes deeply ingrained in the automotive experience, data privacy, vehicle security and vehicle safety become even more important. Increasingly, we have seen car owners making the leap from being concerned about data privacy to vehicle safety. White hack demos have shown what can happen when a car’s critical systems are compromised. According to an RSA survey [note: opens a PDF in a new window], 62 percent of consumers are concerned that cars could be hacked easily. This is where proven security technologies and best practices can be leveraged from trusted companies who have a pedigree in security as well as proven history in successfully delivering software and services in the automotive industry.

The bottom line is that you can't have a safe vehicle unless it's a secure vehicle. Hardening in-car systems requires sophisticated engineering and a layered, interlocked approach to security.


Over the next three to five years as more new cars roll off the line with cutting-edge technology at their core, automotive connectivity, coupled with proven safe, secure and reliable software will reduce the number of recalls, enable new in-car features and dramatically improve safety on the roadway.

About Grant Courville

Grant Courville is the Senior Director, Product Management at BlackBerry QNX. Grant is responsible for managing the company's global product strategy for the automotive and general embedded markets.

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