The Internet becomes an integral part of the car

Publish date 29 January 2016
The Internet becomes an integral part of the car image

Carmakers led by Tesla Motors Inc. are trying to make the most of Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G wireless networks.

This has led automotive computer system vendors such as NXP Semiconductors NV, Ericsson AB and Gemalto NV to try to create special software to protect against hackers.

"As soon as you connect something to the Internet, there is a risk of hacking," said Jonathan Olson, a security expert at Ericsson, a company that provides car network equipment from manufacturers such as Volvo AB. "We protect the software we install on the car and you can be sure that no one is abusing it."

This month, electric car maker Tesla unveiled a new app that allows the Model S and Model X to park perpendicularly without a driver behind the wheel. A complete software upgrade of the company's cars takes an average of 45 minutes and leads to significant improvements in movement, autonomy and battery usage.

Of course, as with all software applications and those for cars, errors often occur. For example, in 2014, Toyota Motor Corp., the world's largest carmaker, had to withdraw more than half of all Prius models sold due to a glitch that could have caused a delay or unexpected stop while driving.

"The car is becoming a self-driving robot," said Lars Reger, chief technology officer at NXP. "That's why software is so much more important than it was a decade ago."

NXP chips are part of cars from manufacturers such as Tesla, Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

There will be 150 million Internet-connected cars worldwide in 2016 and more than 800 million in 2023, according to market analyst Mason.

"Inevitably, carmakers will go through the same steps that banks and dealers have taken in recent years," said Olivier Piu, chief executive of cybersecurity at Gemalto, one of whose customers is Audi.

"Some carmakers are ahead of others," said Jerome Robert, chief marketing officer of Lexi, a security company hired by banks and governments to test for security vulnerabilities in their software systems. According to him, "the level of safety is good in the new all-electric cars, but in many of the older car models there is almost no protection."