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Autonomous Trucks Beat Cars for Safety and Cybersecurity

Editor’s note: Written by David Mor Ofek, Product Manager at C2A Security. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.

On the road to safety and cybersecurity, autonomous trucks are outpacing self-driving cars

For the AV industry, the drive to bring autonomous vehicles to the real world has been a long journey marked by myriad twists and turns. Now autonomous vehicle developers are pursuing a more direct route toward their goal—not with cars navigating city streets, but instead with trucks cruising long distances on highways. In the quest to put AVs on the road quickly and safely, highways promise a straight shot to success, and autonomous trucks are pulling into the lead.

Trucking drives the economy

Given the huge impact the trucking industry has on our economy, this strategy makes sense. Most industries depend on trucking, including manufacturing, construction, retailing and restaurants. And of course, the remarkable boom in e-commerce couldn’t happen without trucks delivering online purchases. According to an American Trucking Associations report, in 2019 trucks carried more than 70 percent of total tonnage shipped in the U.S. Today, due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions (especially to cargo ships and ports), the demand for trucking is greater than ever.

Putting autonomous trucks to the test

TuSimple started testing a fleet of 40 self-driving semi-trucks on Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona highways in 2020. TuSimple is testing its Level 4 technology, developed specifically for trucks, with partners Navistar and UPS, among others.

“Safety drivers” are always on board during these “supervised autonomy” tests. Trucks are delivered to the starting point (“first mile”) and picked up at the end (“last mile”). The “middle mile” along the highway is easier for AVs to navigate than back roads and urban streets. One TuSimple truck drove 951 miles from Arizona to Oklahoma in 14 hours—10 hours faster than any human driver could.

They’re not the first. Waymo has been road-testing automated trucks in California and the southwest since 2017; Kodiak Robotics has been testing in Texas since 2019. “We have been optimizing our technology specifically for highways,” said Kodiak Robotics co-founder and Chief Executive Don Burnette. “We envision a model where self-driving trucks focus on those long, lonely highway miles while leaving the first-mile pickup and last-mile delivery to the traditional human driver.”

AV safety depends on cybersecurity

Since self-driving trucks never stop to eat or sleep, autonomous trucking may be faster, safer, and more economical than trucking with drivers—but it’s also more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Electrical and electronic systems are increasingly digitized, making vehicles easier targets. With no drivers at the wheel, AVs are at greater risk of losing control. The risk is deeper still when autonomous trucks hit the road. Cybersecurity is crucial.

David Mor Ofek

Cyberattacks on trucking are already happening. In April 2020 hackers demanded ransom from a Massachusetts owner of recycling trucks, releasing sensitive data online and shutting the company down for a week. In May 2020, hackers deleted a Georgia trucking company’s backup files and encrypted others, “effectively [wiping] the entire server out.” It took two weeks to clean up the chaos.

Perhaps more worrisome, last year security researchers identified 19 security holes in Mercedes-Benz E-class cars that let hackers remotely unlock doors and start engines. The researchers found flaws throughout the connectivity architecture of these non-autonomous cars, including the infotainment systems and backend servers. Parent company Daimler said it has fixed the vulnerabilities.

Harmonizing a fragmented supply chain

We can expect more challenges to come as OEMs, Tier 1 companies, and other suppliers embed cybersecurity tools in vehicles. For one thing, a new WP.29 regulation and new ISO/SAE 21434 standard each calls for comprehensive, collaborative solutions that flow down the entire supply chain. But the supply chain is fragmented.  And cybersecurity teams struggle to communicate and coordinate tasks efficiently and effectively across the full vehicle lifecycle. Fortunately, new technology now offers an answer, by matching sophisticated connected computing platforms with equally sophisticated cybersecurity solutions.

A comprehensive, end-to-end automotive cybersecurity lifecycle management platform combines three key capabilities: visibility, control and protection. This simplifies in-vehicle cybersecurity management, harmonizes communications across the supply chain, and automates threat identification and prevention. Manufacturers gain unparalleled transparency into the entire cybersecurity lifecycle, streamlining every stage: risk assessment, planning, and policy creation and enforcement.
The size and weight of a loaded truck is formidable. It’s unsettling to imagine a self-driving truck hitting the highway with any possibility of losing complete control. If the future success of AVs is riding on trucks, then breakthrough cybersecurity technology that evolves in a changing world couldn’t be more important.

Trucks.com welcomes divergent thoughts and opinions on transport technology and trucking industry issues. Use the comments section to cite yours. Qualified opinion leaders are welcome to offer suggestions for opinion columns. Contact info@trucks.com.

Trucks.com November 15, 2021
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