What could go wrong?

The most obvious problem with this it is that it’s part of the continuing degradation of our privacy:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is beginning real-world trials of cars equipped with prototype vehicle-to-vehicle technology, deploying a communication network where cars can talk with one another to increase overall road safety.

Starting in August, 2012, the agency will begin gathering data from 3,000 cars equipped with wireless communication technology. Known as The Safety Pilot, the trials will run for one year in Ann Arbor, Mich., to provide data for setting V2V standards and determining what data streams are most helpful.

Here’s how it works: Using existing, universally accessible technology such as GPS and on-board diagnostic data, cars broadcast what’s called a “Here I Am” message at 5.9 GHz. All V2V equipped vehicles will be able to communicate on this band, sharing data such as speed and location. On-board computers sense the presence of other nearby vehicles, calculate the risks they may pose and even taking action — such as hitting the brakes or warning the driver of an impending collision.

From a privacy point of view as long as the vehicles do not broadcast a unique ID I don’t have a problem with it. But if they broadcast an ID that can be traced to the individual car this fails my Jews in the Attic Test.

But what really looks bad to me is the potential to cause accidents with this. Imagine some jokester/terrorist/whatever turning on one of these ‘”Safety Pilots”, broadcasting a signal indicating a stopped (or going the wrong way) vehicle in the middle of a busy freeway with vehicles traveling 70 MPH. People could use them to block emergency vehicles. It could make escapes easier and delay firefighters and/or police to terrorist events.

It’s possible, I suppose, the creators thought of these sort of problems and successfully addressed them. But my guess is they did not.

People need to think of the not only the benefits but the problems created with new technology. Especially those associated with government mandates.


9 thoughts on “What could go wrong?

  1. I wish the article had more details about which implementation is being used. I know one of the other graduate students at my school is working on a system to do this, from the network end at least, and using unique IDs actually would have stopped his system from working. He was also working on addressing the potential for malicious use but I don’t know if he’s made any progress there. Of course knowing all this is useless because I’m sure there’s a dozen existing implementations and Wired didn’t bother to give any useful details.

  2. I’ve seen a demo of such a system, manufactured by an automotive parts-supplier. I don’t know if each device had a unique ID.

    I got the impression that the supplier is going to attempt to sell it as an aftermarket part, with heavy emphasis on its ability to read timing signals broadcast by some stoplights. Thus, the driver can get a fairly accurate picture of whether or not he will coast through a green light when he arrives at the intersection.

    But the demo also had a vehicle attempt to pull out in front of another, so that we passengers could see the flashing-red-warning that the demo screen provided.

    It was informative and a little scary.

    Does your vehicle have a Tire Pressure Monitoring System? That data is broadcast with unique ID’s, and could (theoretically) be used to track travel.

  3. A simple radar type system on the front and sides of a car would be a lot more useful. Trees, light poles, and brick walls won’t have these transponders. A rudimentary form of that is already implemented in the form of back-up assist systems.

  4. I can see the potential benefits for a system like this, but I also worry about unintended consequences. A system like this runs the risk of drivers becoming overdependent on it, relying on the system to warn them of hazards rather than using it to supplement their awareness.

  5. This is just going to cause problems. People will rely on this tech, and not “watch for the other guy”.
    It is also another way for Big Brother to keep track of us.


  6. The answer of course is to keep government out of the transportation business, leaving such decisions between the customers and the vehicle makers.

    There were RF proximity detection systems played with in motor vehicles back in the 1950s or so. I’ve seen a demo from that period, of several cars running on auto pilot in a tight row. This was an apparent outgrowth of the proximity fuse systems used in AAA shells during W.W. II. Digressing a bit; I knew one of the guys who worked on those AAA systems. He was in our ham radio club years ago. They had to produce vacuum tubes that could withstand something like 50K Gs (I forget – you could do the math — roughly 2500 fps from what, a barrel of about ten feet maybe?).

  7. One thing that President Lyndon Johnson said that was actually worth remembering was something to the effect that when you made a law, you had to not only consider what your side would do with it, but what your enemies (or in this case the enemies of liberty) would do with it.

    So many engineers fail to do this when implementing new technologies.

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