Magna International plans to use the International Consumer Electronics Show this week to demonstrate a new approach to cybersecurity that it hopes will significantly reduce the potential for hackers to take control of vehicles remotely.
Security is a crucial issue as automakers add more networking and communications capabilities to vehicles. The matter was highlighted last year when hackers working with Wired magazine showed they were able to take control of a Jeep Cherokee as it was cruising on I-70 near St. Louis.
Magna's system aims to thwart cyberattacks by closely monitoring the data flow into and out of a vehicle to detect potential threats, Swamy Kotagiri, the company's chief technology officer, said.
If any suspicious activity is found, the system can cut off further communications to prevent hackers or destructive software such as viruses from gaining control of the vehicle, he added. Any suspicious activity "can be brought to the attention of the driver or [vehicle] manufacturer and can be stopped in the cloud," he said.
This is a contrast to the more common security technique of using a firewall to screen communications for known threats. "A firewall can only stop things that you've already identified as malicious," Kotagiri said.
Magna is developing the technology in a partnership with a 2-year-old Israeli company called Argus Cyber Security Ltd.
Also at CES, the big Canadian supplier will demonstrate automatic emergency braking technology in a Chevrolet Volt that uses an array of sensors to detect obstacles such as pedestrians and other vehicles, and bring the car to a halt to prevent a crash. Kotagiri said Magna is working to develop a cost-effective system that can be added to most vehicles as a standard feature.
Kotagiri said the biggest challenge is refining the technology to prevent "false positives" -- incidents when the system thinks it detects an obstacle when nothing is actually there.
Current systems, for example, may occasionally mistake the shadow of an overpass as an obstacle and cause a vehicle to slow momentarily. Kotagiri said it "would not be too optimistic" to expect Magna's automatic braking technology on the road by 2018.
Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reached an agreement with more than a dozen automakers to speed the implementation of automatic braking in new vehicles.
Magna will also use the Las Vegas show to search for new innovations. The company will be joined in the effort by IncWell Inc., a venture capital firm headed by former Chrysler chief Tom LaSorda, and Techstars, a group that provides mentoring and funding for entrepreneurs.
The three organizations will host pitches by 15 startups seeking funding for new inventions or ideas. "Startup companies get to pitch to three key business stakeholders all at once, and, in turn, we get to identify and potentially tap into the next generation of entrepreneurs," Kotagiri said.