The Driverless Future: Still a Decade Away

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Autonomous vehicle technology is advancing rapidly, but the need to deal with social, regulatory and legal issues will create significant—and necessary—speed bumps. QIS explains the impact on the insurance industry.

Michael Macauley, CEO of Quadrant Information Services, a leading supplier of pricing analytics services to property and casualty insurance carriers, says, “Engineering is no longer the holdup in getting driverless cars on the road in large numbers. As we’ve seen from announcements from companies such as Intel (1), Ford (2) and Volvo (3)—among numerous others—the technology is all but ready to go. However, society as a whole—the world in which these vehicles will have to operate—is moving more slowly, and will continue to do so until some important issues are addressed.”

One key issue, Macauley notes, is security. The heart of an autonomous vehicle is a computer system, which is connected through the Internet to a network of sensing and control systems that govern the vehicle’s speed, direction and operational functions. Computer systems—as illustrated vividly by the global ransomware attack earlier this year that disrupted hospitals, corporations and government offices in 99 countries4—are susceptible to hacking.

Charlie Miller, a former engineer at Uber, has commented that before self-driving vehicles can become a reality, the vehicles’ architects will need to consider everything from the vast array of automation in these vehicles that can be remotely hijacked to the possibility that passengers themselves could use their physical access to an unmanned vehicle to sabotage it (5).

This is not to say that the danger of hacking represents a permanent or insoluble barrier to the use of autonomous vehicles. Professor Engin Kirda, a systems, software and security expert who holds joint appointments in the College of Computer and Information Science and the College of Engineering at Boston’s Northeastern University, says, “In principle, any computerized system that has an interface to the outside world is potentially hackable.” Professor Kirda adds, however, that while rapid progress in creating complex systems is being made, good progress in systems security is also occurring, holding out the possibility for a high level of safety by 2027 or thereabouts (6).

However, when it comes to societal perception—especially of a new technology—what is important is not just what is happening now, but what could happen. Automobile-related crime, such as theft, carjacking or the use of vehicles as weapons, is disturbing enough to the public when such activities rely on the actions of an individual (and presumably identifiable and findable) human being. When it’s something that could be perpetrated by anonymous hackers three countries away, and involves the potential not just of a locked-down hard drive but of potential abduction or bodily harm, it becomes a risk that people may simply be unwilling to take.

The fact that these cars can be hacked at all is extremely disturbing, Macauley notes, and it needs to be as close as humanly possible to 100 percent fixed before they’re put into widespread use. In addition to lawmakers and the general public, Macauley points out that this issue has major implications for the insurance industry.

Macauley noted that “to properly insure these vehicles and the people in them, carriers have to understand the risks involved. On the one hand, autonomous vehicles hold out a real hope for improved safety. The vast majority of wrecks—including those with fatalities—are the result of human error, which can be removed from the equation. On the other hand, some aspects of the technology—especially the potential for hacking—make risk evaluation very difficult. Just based on what we know now, I think it’s clear that autonomous vehicles are our future. But widespread adoption will be delayed by at least a decade—or however long it takes for the tech community—which hasn’t always been particularly empathetic to collaborating with policymakers, regulators, insurance providers and consumer advocates in addressing the significant social, regulatory and legal challenges that autonomous vehicles will create.”

About Quadrant Information Services:

Quadrant Information Services, headquartered in Pleasanton, CA, provides pricing analytics solutions for property and casualty insurance companies. Quadrant gives actuary, product development, pricing, sales and marketing personnel at its client companies—which include all the major insurance carriers in the United States—the data they need to make accurate, data-driven decisions. An industry innovator since its founding in 1991, Quadrant has provided the P&C insurance field with a long series of technological advances, most recently InsureWatch, the industry’s first cloud-based pricing tool, which allows the user to produce unlimited combinations of reports with the click of a mouse. For more information, and to learn why Quadrant is for insurance companies that are tired of losing the right customers and winning the wrong ones, please visit http://www.quadinfo.com.

1.    Hall-Geisler, Kristen, “Intel announces $250 million for autonomous driving tech,” TechCrunch, November 15, 2016.
2.    Bigelow, Pete, “Ford Promises Fully Autonomous Cars by 2021,” Car and Driver, August 16, 2016.
3.    Adamczyk, Ed, “Volvo builds its first self-driving car,” UPI, September 13, 2016.
4.    Larson, Selena, “Massive cyberattack targeting 99 countries causes sweeping havoc,” CNN, May 13, 2017.
5.    Greenberg, Andy, “Securing driverless cars from hackers is hard. Ask the ex-Uber guy who protects them,” Wired, April 12, 2017.
6.    Kornwitz, Jason, “The cybersecurity risk of self-driving cars,” Phys.org, February 16, 2017.

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Karla Jo Helms
JoTo PR
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