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Paving the autonomous path

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Carmaker chooses hi-tech communications conference to showcase its autonomous sports car and personal assistant. TU-Automotive’s Paul Myles and Andrew Tolve report

French manufacturer Peugeot chose last month’s Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona to unveil its vision of a fully autonomous car.

The Peugeot Instinct concept is a shooting brake – an estate or station wagon by more common definitions – propelled by an electrically driven powertrain that offers a sporting 220kW.

Peugeot spokesmen say the vehicle boasts ‘drive’ and ‘autonomous’ mode features which allow the driver the choice of an engaging drive or the convenience of a fully autonomous vehicle.

Even the driverless mode offers the choice between a sports experience with ‘autonomous sharp’ or more relaxed ‘autonomous soft’ settings.

On board technology includes an IoT platform – Samsung’s ArtikCloud – which syncs with the driver’s devices allowing the car to learn its user’s preferences and preconfigure settings such as driving mode, seat and interface settings, ambient lighting and audio.

In effect, the system becomes the driver’s butler or PA – synchronising with the user’s diary and the vehicle’s navigation system to issue timeous prompts regarding appointments, schedules or activities, taking into account traffic patterns and weather conditions.

In a statement, David Peel, managing director of Peugeot UK, said: “The autonomous future is happening now, and the Instinct demonstrates how this can still be driven by a passion for brilliant design and driving pleasure.”

In another development on the autonomous front, the race to get driverless cars on the road has been cordial over the past five years with tech companies and carmakers amiably sharing the spotlight side by side – often even encouraging each other forward in the name of greater human good.

That all changed recently when Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company alleged that Uber’s self-driving car project is built on a remarkable feat of cyber espionage.

This isn’t your typical corporate bellyaching about suspicious similarities. Waymo claims that Anton Levandowski, a former manager in its self-driving car project and now the head of Uber’s self-driving car efforts, stole 14 000 files of confidential and proprietary information off his company laptop shortly before leaving to launch his own start-up, the self-driving truck company Otto.

It is alleged he installed special software to conceal his activities and access the files, downloaded them to an external hard drive, then installed a new operating system to cover up the whole operation. There is no word yet on how Google pieced this together, but the details sound alarming.

The most sensitive and valuable information that Levandowski allegedly downloaded relates to LiDAR circuit board designs. Uber says it takes the suit seriously and is launching its own investigation. We’ll see how it all plays out in court.

Finally, remote control apps are rife with security flaws that open vehicles up to theft and remote steering, according to research from Kaspersky Lab. The lab tested seven remote car control applications developed by major car manufacturers which, according to Google Play statistics, have been downloaded up to five million times.

The researchers discovered that most of the apps could be easily reverse engineered, offered no defence against rooting or app overlaying, and stored logins and passwords in plain text. That’s like leaving a key under a doormat for a cyber-criminal.

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