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Can Automated Cars Be Hacked?

Brandon Evans   |  July 22, 2015   |  

In the past few years, we have experienced a revolution in automation.  Autonomous Google cars travel around the country, photographing the nation’s roads (note, they do carry a human, but merely as emergency backup).  Drones patrol the skis around the globe, recording video, and even launching missiles at enemies of the United States.  Many have begun to ask if the billions we have spent on military stealth aircraft was wasted, and whether the era of piloted aircraft has passed into history.  Domestically, Amazon and Dominoes have begun experimenting with drone deliveries, taking a human element out of those endeavors as well.

But a new report has been released showing that such vehicles are subject to hacking.  The vehicle in question was not even an entirely autonomous vehicle, but a Fiat with electronic features, raising the issue of whether anything is safe from hackers in this day and age.  The issue raised is an important one.  What could a terrorist or criminal mind do with a vehicle or drone once they had hacked in and taken control?  And the corollary question, how do we know if a vehicle was hacked or when the operator uses that as an excuse for his own actions.  Much like a science fiction story, society will struggle in the coming years to catch up to technology.

And as Google reported last month that several of its autonomous vehicles had been involved in collisions (although there is no evidence the vehicles were the ones at fault), the question arises: what will our roads look like in 10 or 20 years?  Will self-piloting Uber cars pick up our kids from school and drop them off at soccer practice?  And legally, if those cars run into someone, who is responsible for the losses?  These are questions we in the law call “issues of first impression.”

Update 07/24/15: ABC11.com is reporting that Chrysler Fiat is recalling 1.4 million vehicles that could be subject to the hacking demonstrated in the above-mentioned report.