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I’m kind of a car guy. To give you an idea, when we last changed houses, I got my priorities straight and went from a 4,000-square foot house with a three-car garage where there was tons of traffic to a 2,700-square foot house with a six-car garage where traffic only occurs if the rare stoplight turns red.
I enjoy cars, but current generation cars have become a mess of conflicting technologies, multiple incompatible networks and layers of software that would give the typical IT manager a heart attack. Credit to the massive testing the car companies do, otherwise we’d likely be rebooting our cars daily in incredibly inconvenient areas.
As we move to connected — and particularly autonomous — cars, we are going to increase this complexity massively at the same time we are starting to let the cars drive for us. That would typically not end well but Cisco, along with BlackBerry, NVIDIA and Qualcomm, is working to make sure that what otherwise would be a catastrophic result will instead be rather pleasant.
Let’s focus on Cisco, but I don’t want to lose track of the other technology companies who are also playing a huge role in this effort.
Solving the In-Car Network
Current generation cars have multiple networks surrounding engine management, the audio-video system and the increasing number of sensors. In some cases, the lack of interoperability among these networks has been a good thing because the security around them was so poor that making them work together would have only resulted in a far less safe car as Chrysler so expensively discovered.
The current car is much like the early days of computing. Then — as now — the standards, when they existed, were all over the map. Every supplier had its own proprietary and isolated way of doing things. As a result, back then, we were more secure because the typewriters, calculators and early computers didn’t talk to each other than we would have been if they did.
But believing you are secure just because the car’s networks don’t talk to each other won’t work in the near-term future because systems in a connected and, particularly, an autonomous car must talk to each other. In this connected class of car, the vehicle must get software updates. It must get streamed programming. And it must be alerted of approaching danger, so it can best react to it. It must know if you are driving or if the car is expected to drive for you and transfer between modes. It must be always aware of what is around the car, both seen and unseen.
In short, the cars will have a far more common network, but that network will need to be far more capable and secure than the ones currently in vehicles.
I’ve mentioned security, but we’ll also need a massive increase in data throughput as multiple video sensors will stream feeds into the autonomous brain of the car fast enough that the computer can both formulate a response and execute. You sure don’t want an autonomous car suddenly saying, “Oh no!” right before it hits something immovable.
Cisco’s connected vehicle solution is to use standards-driven high-speed networking inside the car and then support vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication and the modified vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) solutions now being contemplated.
On this last, it is interesting to note that the car industry has moved away from true V2V due to incompatibilities and fear of spreading malware and hacks between cars. Now, if the vehicles talk to each other, it will more likely be routed through infrastructure so these problems and threats can more easily be addressed.
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From Cisco’s perspective, this means industry-standard copper- and increasingly fiber optics-based networking technology in the car, utilizing standards-based interfaces and some of the security solutions that have matured in business. The result should be in-car networks that are better, faster and cheaper than what we have today — plus a huge jump in car control and in car entertainment.
But Cisco isn’t doing this alone. It is working with partners that include NVIDIA for the brains, Qualcomm for the 5G connection and BlackBerry for security. (BlackBerry just announced its impressive Jarvis security solution).
So Cisco is using as its approach to the connected autonomous car a well-tested approach of industry standards, foundational approach to security and solid partnerships. This should help the auto industry meet its goal of eliminating more than 80 percent of the accidents and fatalities in cars.
When Tech and the Auto Industry Unite
Of course, I’m excited about this trend because I can finally write about cars on a regular basis. But my jubilation aside, Cisco’s move to apply IT technology to cars is a good thing. It should result in the cars of the future not only being far more connected an automated, but cheaper, safer, and more secure than current cars as well (largely due to massive reductions on insurance and repair costs).
There was an old joke, that many of us thought was a real fact, about Bill Gates getting into it with the auto industry. Bill supposedly said (but didn’t) something like if the car industry was like the technology industry, cars would be flying and have low gas mileage by now. The auto industry supposedly (but didn’t) reply with “But who would want to have to reboot them twice a day?”
It is interesting to note that now that the two industries are getting together, we are getting amazing cars that run on electricity and fly. And folks like those at Cisco are making sure we won’t have to reboot them twice a day.
This is one of those rare times when real facts are more interesting than fake news. Go figure.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.