Will self-driving cars get updates?
It has been argued that the recent WannaCry worm hit the NHS because they are using MRI scanners and similar equipment built to run on (or with) Windows XP. Trying to update software for a linear accelerator built for cancer treatment and ensure it is 100% safe might be very difficult, very expensive or both. Do you stop using perfectly functional kit that meets all your needs because its software does not receive security updates?
Motorola updated my G4 to Android 7.0 just as it launched the G5. Will I get Android 7.1 or 7.2? Who knows. Google produces monthly security patches for Android, but my phone’s latest patch is for December 2016 so later security updates marked ‘critical’ have not been applied. My Moto G3 shows the January 2017 update. There are supposedly hundreds of millions of old Android phones and tablets that pose a security risk that will never be updated by Google or their manufacturers. There are many thousands of IoT devices that are totally insecure and which will never receive any sort of update. Many manufacturers create consumer products with no attention to the software, give short-term updates, then abandon them.
So what is going to happen with the software for autonomous vehicles? All the major manufacturers are looking to produce cars that will drive themselves. The lifetime of a car has always been as long as the owner can keep it running in a mechanically safe way. Are car manufacturers prepared to give proper software support for decades? Will the software updates be secure, on time and implemented properly, or will manufacturers make decisions about safety based on financial considerations? Finally, if the manufacturer decides not to support a particular range of vehicle any more, will the owner have to scrap the car or can they continue to use their vehicle? They may take the view that it’s still working perfectly well at the moment, just as you can (if you still want to) run Windows XP today. Stephen Hill