The Brave New World of Automotive Software

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As cars become increasingly computerized, they become increasingly reliant on software, and as a result, more vulnerable to software problems. For example, in May 2014, Ford recalled nearly 700,000 vehicles to perform transmission and airbag software updates and then, in July 2015, recalled 432000 vehicles for software problems. Software bugs are now one of the most common causes of recalls, although in 2013, this proved to be true in a literal sense, when Toyota recalled over 800,000 vehicles due to spiders.

(As an aside, you might wonder why automotive software updates can’t be performed “over the air,” via a wifi or LTE connection. Most vehicles aren’t equipped with the requisite communications hardware, but the Tesla Model S can in fact receive over the air software updates. Much the way your operating system might notify you when it’s time for an update, the Tesla S will notify the owner of an update, which can then be performed over a home wifi connection.)

Our increasing dependence on automotive software raises numerous concerns. At one end of the spectrum, self driving cars require us to literally place our lives in their hands, (although many believe that they will be safer than humans.) More mundanely, in a world with daily revelations of cyberhacks and security threats, is it surprising that a car could be hacked in less than 60 minutes?

In future articles in DrivenAutos.com, we’ll be delving into this topic, trying to shed some light on what for most consumers is a “black box.”

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