A group of security researchers have demonstrated the present fallibility of driverless technology by commandeering a two tonne Jeep Cherokee travelling at 70mph on the motorway.
Armed with nothing more than a laptop and a smartphone the hackers managed to co-opt the vehicle's mobile phone connection to insert malicious software onto the on-board computer, handing them full control of all computerised components including the brakes, steering wheel and gearbox.
Once in control the researchers were able to play merry hell with the vehicle, tampering with the radio, air con and windscreen wipers. They were even able to upload a picture of themselves to a dashboard display and prove their ability to locate other cars to crash into.
Technology journalist Andy Greenberg, who writes for Wired magazine, had the unenviable task of attempting to regain control of the inoperable vehicle whilst the hack took place.
He recounted: “As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission. Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the RPMs [revolutions per minute] climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl.”
Following the test manufacturer Chrysler has upgraded its software on 500,000 vehicles vulnerable to copycat takeovers but any car fitted with wireless internet systems faces an inherent risk of attack.