The government has understandably been exercising caution when it comes to approving new technology for self-driving cars. No matter how enticing (or at least amusing) the concept may be in dystopian science fiction films, you’d be crazy not to be at least mildly concerned about turning over control of your one ton steel vehicle to Artificial Intelligence as it hurtles down the highway at sixty miles per hour. But some folks aren’t content to simply wait for Uncle Sam to give their approval. One hacker has now happily handed over some free code which anyone can use to turn their high tech automobile into something from an Isaac Asimov story. (Washington Post)

Scrappy self-driving car start-up Comma.ai released a free software kit on Wednesday to help developers learn to build a device that can turn any car into an autonomous vehicle. The year-old company, which is founded by a well-known hacker and backed by prominent Silicon Valley investors, hopes to accelerate the development of self-driving cars while skirting the ire of Washington.

The move raises questions of how the United States should foster innovation for promising technologies that also carry great risks. Experts say self-driving cars have the potential to dramatically reduce the number of accidents of the roadway, most of which are caused by human errors. But Comma’s self-driving kit has only logged roughly 5,000 miles of road time, a number that is effectively a useless barometer for judging safety, said John Simpson, of the safety advocacy group Consumer Watchdog.

That’s just great. Whip out your phone, load up an app and you can spend your time commuting to and from the job watching movies or just taking a nap. I’m sure we all feel a lot better now.

But driving isn’t the only aspect of your relationship with your vehicle which may soon be handled by your phone. Toyota is already testing a system which will eliminate keys once and for all. (Associated Press)

Toyota will test a new car-sharing system next year that lets users unlock doors and start cars with their smartphones.

The Smart Key Box system eliminates the need for a physical key. Toyota will test the system in San Francisco with the Getaround car-sharing service starting in January. A Toyota investment fund put money into Getaround this month.

Toyota says a user’s phone will get codes to access the smart key box inside car-sharing vehicles. When the phone gets close to the vehicle, the codes are verified through the Bluetooth system.

Once the car is at the point where unlocking the doors and starting the engine are both functions which go through your phone, all bets are off as far as I’m concerned. And that doesn’t even include the already proven theory that a hacker can simply shut your car down or take over control of critical functions while you’re on the interstate. In that episode they just shut the Jeep off in the middle of traffic. But if it’s a car with the functionality to steer it then let’s not pretend that the same hackers couldn’t just swing the steering wheel into a sharp turn while you’re crossing a bridge.

Am I giving too much credit to the hackers here? In case you’d already forgotten, hackers basically shut down half of the internet a few weeks ago. That may not have impacted you too much if you weren’t a frantic teenager trying to upload more selfies to your Tumblr account or attempting to watch Stranger Things on Netflix, but it should have sounded a very loud alarm in the back of your mind.

Get yourself an older car. It doesn’t have to be a classic… just a reliable model that’s not equipped for remote steering, braking or other critical functions. Keep it in good shape and hang onto it. You may find yourself quite happy one of these days, providing the next hacked vehicle isn’t swerving into your lane.

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