CES and UK car sales boom prove auto tech is here to stay

The same day carmakers boasted of a driverless future for cars during CES, the UK car industry reported a ten-year sales high in part thanks to increased technology and connectivity. ComputerworldUK rounds up the latest driverless car news and what it means for Britain.


Pre-recession level of car sales were boosted by increased connectivity says Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

The society, which collates the annual car registration figures, reported a ten-year high of UK sales on Wednesday.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said, "UK new car registrations returned to pre-recession levels in 2014, as pent-up demand from the recession years combined with confidence in the economy saw consumer demand for the latest models grow consistently and strongly.

Hawes told The Financial Times this was due to, “some of the new technologies – connectivity”, in the latest car models.

The good news came as renowned carmakers displayed futuristic connected car technology during the consumer tech conference CES in Vegas this week.

Car manufacturers are clearly seeing the benefit of connecting customer’s cars to the world around them. This increased connectivity opens new revenue streams including telematics-based insurance policies, car-sharing services that can be unlocked through a smartwatch app and safer roads thanks to collision detection technology.

Further, the reality of a driverless car - and its place on UK roads – was realised as Ford unveiled 25 global ‘smart mobility’ trials, including a driverless car trial in London. CTO Raj Nair boldly claimed that a fully autonomous car for the mass market was “absolutely possible”, a thought echoed by Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

In a bid to place the UK at the fore-front of cutting edge technology, the government is putting money behind the race to remove drivers from customer’s cars. Its backing of driverless car trials, launching this month, reinforce how important this technology could be for the UK economy.

Driverless cars in practice

Ford’s driverless car experiment, for example, uses light detection technology LiDAR to create a 3D simulation of its surroundings which can sense cars, pedestrians and cyclists and with advanced algorithms the car will begin to “learn” habits.

Cars currently on the market already have semi-autonomous features like self-parking and collision detection. Auto and component manufacturers are also putting technology outside of the car. Volvo unveiled a helmet that connects cyclists to surrounding cars to avoid collisions during the Vegas conference.

But a stable, secure network is the backbone to these new technologies. ComputerworldUK spoke to security software company Ixia about the infrastructure behind connected and autonomous driving. Vice president Jim Smith says carmakers are “moving in the right direction”, however “far more thought” should be given to testing components along the supply chain and understanding sourcing to avoid exploitation of vulnerabilities.

Increased crimes?

The law and regulations on insurance policies will have to change to accommodate driverless cars – something that insurers like RSA are experimenting with as part of the UK’s prototype trials this year.

New security gaps in network technologies could see an escalation from petty theft on today’s roads to serious crimes like attaching malware to an individual’s device while it is connected to the car cloud network. “When the executive enters the office the attacker is now on the corporate network – this becomes a business related risk”, Smith says.

Similarly to corporate networks, carmakers may need to segment an automotive network, he adds: “Automotive OEMs are moving to deploy Ethernet in cars and it will play a critical role in securing connected vehicles.

“Ethernet is mature and widely supported and is the best option to protect the car from malicious attacks and secure the network infrastructure, but only with ongoing security testing and assessment starting from design.” 

Round-up of the car tech on show at CES 2015

Merecedes-Benz flaunted the F015, packed with safety features, one including the ability to yield to a pedestrian, "saying" a short, reassuring phrase, and actually beaming crosswalk symbols onto the road so the person would know it was safe to walk there.

Audi's CEO summoned a self-driving car with his smartwatch during a press conference at the Vegas event. 

Ford is collecting data from vehicle sensors to analyse vehicle performance to determine how it might help lower insurance rates for good drivers in London. Another UK experiment includes drivers volunteering to use plug-in devices that create live data on traffic and parking. Ford's City Dash app tells users whether they are legally parked. If not, the app recommends the nearest open spot. It allows drivers to pay for parking meters by mobile phone, and identifies the closest available parking spots to the driver's final destination. The app was developed in partnership with local authorities. 

Volkswagen showed off its touchscreen dashboards and self-parking tech.

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