By on July 12, 2018

autonomous hardware

Autonomous vehicles have created an endless series of unanswerable questions. As the technology continues to advance, decisions on how best to implement it have not. We’ve yet to discern who is liable in the event of an accident, how insurance rules would change, if they can coexist effectively with traditional automobiles, how they will impact vehicle ownership in the long term, and the infrastructure necessary to ensure they’ll function as intended.

There’s also a myriad of security concerns involving everything from the very real prospect of vehicle hacking to automakers selling the personal information of drivers. Both of those topics are about to come to a head as automakers continue shifting toward connected vehicles.

In March, the U.S. Transportation Department met with auto industry leaders, consumer advocacy groups, labor unions, and others in an attempt to navigate the minefield that is autonomous integration. The department previously hosted similar roundtable discussions in December after releasing the new federal guidance for automated driving systems, called “A Vision for Safety 2.0.” That guidance freed up automakers and tech firms to test self-driving vehicles with fewer regulatory hurdles to cope with.

However, the December report seemed to focus mainly on how little everyone outside the industry understands the new technology.

The government also acknowledged a lack of real consensus on any single issue and how that had to change before progress (or laws) could be made. The March talks were intended to remedy that, however new questions arose with no answers.

According to Reuters, a 39-page-summary of the meetings showed that a large number of participants “agreed that it is a question of when, not if, there is a massive cyber security attack targeting [autonomous vehicles]” and that “planning exercises are needed to prepare for and mitigate a large-scale, potentially multimodal cyber security attack.”

The government is aware that autonomous vehicles pose the risk of a future catastrophe and are open to new vulnerabilities. But it’s less certain on how to cope with that or take preventative measures — which seems like an issue that should be addressed.

If that’s not dystopian enough for you, law enforcement officials expressed an interest in being able to control self-driving vehicles.

These officials considered the usefulness of not only stopping the vehicles in emergency situations but also actively being able to reroute them to a destination of their choosing and controlling their functions. As helpful as this would be in preventing high-speed chases, the idea that the government could lock you inside of your own vehicle is genuinely terrifying. Fortunately, meeting participants said opening up such avenues for the police could also create new opportunities for high-tech terrorists.

However, it does sound like the government still wants new tools for law enforcement that stem from autonomous and connected-car technologies. While the police may not be able to stop your vehicle and lock you inside, they will probably be able to track it remotely.

“At the end of the day, policymakers likely need to answer 10 to 15 key questions,” said Derek Kan, the Transportation Department’s undersecretary for policy, according to the summary. “These range from things like, how do you integrate with public safety officials? Should we require the exchange of data? What are our requirements around privacy or cyber security? And how do we address concerns from the disability and elderly communities?”

The disabled and elderly are demographics that stand to benefit from self-driving vehicles. However, the blind would still need a special way to interact with them. The same could be true for the elderly — who are less likely to feel comfortable with them. Likewise, would a person need a valid driver’s license to own and operate an autonomous vehicle? If so, wouldn’t these communities be limited to autonomous cabs, which already serve a similar purpose as traditional taxi services?

That probably depends on how the vehicle is designed. With no controls, there likely isn’t any reason to have a license. In January, General Motors filed a petition asking the Transportation Department for approval to deploy a fully autonomous car without a steering wheel or pedals as part of a new ride-sharing fleet slated for a 2019 debut. After reviewing GM’s petition for six months, there’s still no decision from the government.

Likewise, after a series of fatal incidents involving semi-autonomous features and self-driving test cars hit the news, the government withdrew some of its earlier support, adopting a more cautious approach. Legislation that would ultimately make it even easier for automakers to get thousands of self-driving cars on the road without human controls stalled in Congress. But these decisions can’t be idled forever.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in San Francisco on Tuesday that “one thing is certain — the autonomous revolution is coming. And as government regulators, it is our responsibility to understand it and help prepare for it.”

The Transportation Department expects to release an update to its existing autonomous vehicle guidance later this summer. Hopefully, it addresses some of the issues brought up during the meetings, because we’re working without a net right now and nobody seems to have any idea of what should be done.

[Image: Ford Motor Co.]

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30 Comments on “Should Police Have the Ability to Track and Disable Self-driving Vehicles?...”

  • avatar

    Sure, police have no interest in consolidating power nor do they ever abuse it. I think it’s a great idea

  • avatar

    Here’s my take on it:

    Disable? Yes. There needs to be a way for a cop to “pull over” a car. This will be trickly because people will use this for evil. I for example may or may not have, in my younger years, pulling over friends as a prank with fake cop lights and a fake cop siren. I may or may not have, in my younger years, used cell phone jammers. Both would be highly unethical.

    So that relationship will have to be hammered out, but some form of disabling sounds reasonable since you can’t expect a person to be paying attention and pull over… obviously.

    but tracking? NO WAY. I’m totally against that. That is total gov’t overreach. I will do anything I can to stop that bull. NOT OK.

    But I’m fully for people “allowing” the govt to track them. You know my parents keep a spare set of keys at the police office in their city so the cops can get in if they ever need to. They are very old. I could also see older, disabled, etc. allowing the gov’t to track them for safety purposes… but that should be a personal decision, not an edict.

  • avatar

    The more autonomous anything is the less control you will have over it and since I don’t really trust any side in this debate I prefer my car to be as disconnected as I can possibly make it, but since I carry a phone that is quite trackable I fear my efforts are probably a moot point

  • avatar

    If the car is fully autonomous without controls, why would it ever be involved in a high speed chase? Or break any driving laws at all for that matter?

    If the car has controls, then how is this any different than capabilities OnStar or whoever already has (not that I’m in favor of this)?

    I hate this idea, but it really seems like a solution in search of a problem.

  • avatar
    Hoon Goon


  • avatar

    Do we even need autonomous vehicles. Can`t development just be stopped at level 1 or 2 without going all the way to 5 and the attendant issues. Not much consumer clamor for it.

  • avatar

    Aren’t we putting the cart in front of the horse? Should we give androids the right to vote? What side of the sky should flying cars use in Europe?

    • 0 avatar

      They don’t really want an answer to the question, it’s already a given that anything autonomous will be completely trackable and controllable by those other then ourselves. The only reason for asking the question is to get us used to the inevitable

  • avatar

    Note to self- When self-driving cars become commonplace, get one without identifying marks to transport black market goods without risk of tracing goods or car back to me. Make huge sums of money.

  • avatar

    My first reaction was yes to disable, no to remote control. You would think that the police would need a fail safe for safety. After thinking about it for a minute, I realized that it’s not necessary. All these vehicles will stop by themselves if their sensors fail. You are not going to have Christine going on a rampage. If the police want to stop an autonomous vehicle, they just have to get in front of it and stop. The car will stop also.

    • 0 avatar

      “If the police want to stop an autonomous vehicle, they just have to get in front of it and stop. The car will stop also.”

      Unless it’s modified for criminal purposes. They won’t be able to stop that use – even now. In fact, there are ocean-going drug smuggling drones out there now:

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      I went through the same thought process as you. You pull in front of the car and it will stop.

      The difficulty becomes if someone gets into a car and starts shooting. The police won’t want to get that close to the car to make it stop. Though I would suspect that situation would be avoided by some sort of unmanned mobile obstruction. Or, heck, even another autonomous car.

  • avatar

    You aren’t really losing the freedom some of you think you are if the police have the ability to shut down your car- you are only losing the violence that accompanies the current methods (pit maneuvers, spike strips, blockades, etc.).

    Also, assume that an issue may occur- the equivalent of the ‘stuck accelerator’ hysteria where the people inside the car seemed unable to stop their own vehicle. Seems like a method to shut a vehicle down may not be a bad idea in that scenario. A simple scenario is the vehicles mapping program is out of date by a week and a car continues into a construction zone- but the occupants are too insulated and confused to figure out how to fix it (and I think we all can see this happening).

    The problem would be if it’s so casually easy to shut the car down that they could just shut it down on a whim. There needs to be some protocols and some rules about when shutting down a vehicle is legitimate.

    • 0 avatar

      Rules will never be enough to stop abuses of power, and there’s a world of difference between the cops being able to shut down your car with the push of a button and having to actively chase you across three counties.

  • avatar

    It seems to me:

    Letting autonomous cars/self drivers share all public right-of-ways is going to be not to much different than having a law requiring universal side-arms.
    Bloodshed will result.

    What is needed for the Autonomous Car population is a dedicated route network, accessible to all motor- and human- powered transport, but within which the Autonomous Car has legally protected primary right-of-way (in other words, if you drive your Panhard Dyna onto this right of way and clobber or get clobbered by an autonomous car, it’s automatically your fault).

    With GPS being accurate to within inches, why not license GPS-defined AutoRoutes, with the roadway on these lanes painted or marked – striped lines, hunter-orange borders, whatever – so that non-autonomous road users (MG drivers, cyclists, pedestrians) know the boundaries of where driverless cars will be.

    Analogous to rail lines, there will of course be suicide-by-Autonomous cars, there will be the ignorant and stupid who fail to yield in these defined right-of-ways, and there will need to be some sort of AutoRoute detection system for the blind (for example, maybe part of what the automakers provide is a pager-like device that the blind can carry which emits a warning when AutoRoutes are approached).

    Conversely, anytime an Autonomous car strays from an AutoRoute, a crime is being committed and the manufacturer/regulator/occupant of the autonomous vehicle is automatically considered liable for any and all damages.

    Finally, autonomous cars need to have a big red button to kill the motion, or maybe like railroad locomotives, a deadman control.

    • 0 avatar

      While I’d agree with your premise, your analogy of universal side-arms causing bloodshed is 100% false as a matter of fact. Therefore your analogy is essentially saying that self-drivers and autonomous cars sharing the road will not cause bloodshed.

      And if thats true, I’m not sure what your point is.

      • 0 avatar

        I should have been more specific: I’ve long believed that if there were a law passed requiring all citizens to carry a side-arm, that there would initially be a brief period of bloodshed, after which we would have a very peaceful and civilized society.

        My apologies.

        I think the same is true here. If autonomous cars are simply released on the world without restriction, there would be an initial period of bloodshed. Unlike the sidearm argument however, I don’t have a clear picture of what the post-bloodshed period would look like. As a driver who values car control skills, and a cyclist, and a hiker, I however fear that the autonomous idiots would be the victors.

  • avatar

    Just think of the potential savings for police and legal system. No more need for cruisers out burning gasoline and paying officers to set in a seat doing nothing 90% of the time. With self-driving cars the police could just take over control of the law-breaking car from HQ and have it lock the doors and proceed directly to the drive-thru court where the penalty could be assessed, and if necessary drive the guilty directly to jail. Lots of potential here – for illegals from south of the border ICE could reprogram the car to lock the doors and direct it to return directly back to Mexico, Honduras, etc. with no ‘painful’ family break-ups, no ‘cruel’ detention centers, and no lengthy legal proceedings. I’m sure the DOJ could even force automakers to include drug sniffing technology, so if the occupant(s) is transporting or consuming illegal drugs in the self-driving car it will automatically incinerate the occupants or drive them to jail depending on the severity of the drug laws in a particular jurisdiction. I think I’m only scratching the surface of what is possible – but I fully trust that Trump, Sessions, Rosenstein, Pelosi, Warren, Schumer, etc. would never use the system for political or unfair purposes.

  • avatar

    I did get quite a charge out of that tv show “Bait Car”, where they’d leave a car unlocked and wait for some reprobates to steal it and then remotely lock them in. One time three guys tried to steal the car, one after another they couldn’t start it, the cops could be heard off camera saying “You have to step on the brake, stupid”, lol, funny stuff.

  • avatar

    A commitment to liberty requires that it we never make it too easy for The State to enforce the law.

  • avatar

    Normatives are sort of irrelevant when it comes to government. They do whatever they have the ability to do, regardless of moral or even legal consideration. The same is becoming true for corporations, particularly as it pertains to data analytics and exploiting the lack of tax parity between machine hours and human labor.

    In the future, your self-driving car will take you right by your office, and straight to the public facility where you can pay any outstanding citations, taxes, or serve jury duty or whatever else. Your friendly armed-revenue-agent will greet you at the door.

  • avatar

    I have no problem with a police “disable” over-ride to catch criminals or stop persistent dangerous driving.

    I suspect the tracking horse has already left the stable…

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Nope. They will likely require an alert “operator” in the vehicle. Should such a need arise said “operator” can hit a button and pill the car over.

    Unless of course they will abandon things like the DUI industry and all of the money it makes. If said vehicle is autonomous to the point that the occupants…all of them, can be rip roaring drunk and passing a bottle of Beam around, legally then maybe some allowance can be made, but if someone is going to be required to be alert and awake I see no reason for a law enforcment backdoor to overide my personal property. Now if my local sheriff agrees to pay the note, maybe. Otherwise, eff off.

  • avatar

    We’re probably getting ahead of ourselves with this. There are still horse drawn carriages on our roads, as well as bicycles, motorcycles, and as noted in the article many traditional or outdated cars. The folks who are suggesting we move forward quickly with self driving cars, I believe, don’t fully grasp the real-world conditions in which the vehicles will operate. I’d suggest they get out from behind their computers and from inside of their cubical offices to see the real USA and gain a better understanding of how real folks live their lives and see how real folks utilize their vehicles. Integrating this type of technology into a system in which older modes of transportation are still used is problematic at best. Older modes of transportation will not just simply go away at the behest of the technological elite. The least of our concerns will be whether or not law enforcement personnel can track and/or disable a vehicle which has autonomous technology.

  • avatar

    Lots of towns and villages will fold due to loss of ticket revenue. If autonomous cars don’t break any traffic laws, the gravy train stops and they’ll have to consolidate. In NYS we have many duplicate governments that serve little purpose other than graft through speed traps.

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