Security in cars the same as “desktop computer system had in the 1980s”

A researcher has warned that the cars of the future, including self-driving cars such as those that are being developed by Google, need to have their security systems improved, or they will put lives at risk.

Professor Andry Rakotonirainy, from Queensland University of Technology, said that the cars of tomorrow face a threat from hackers who may be able to take control of their vehicles.

He added that the current level of security on cars is similar to that of a 1980s computer.

“If someone hacks into a vehicle’s electronics via a wireless network and exploits the current security loophole, they can track or take control of it,” he said.

“We need to be analysing the types of risk that these intelligent vehicles are facing and work to provide a secure, reliable and trusted protection system,” Rakotonirainy said.

“A vehicle’s communication security over wireless networks cannot be an afterthought and needs to be comprehensively considered at the early stages of design and deployment of these high-tech systems from the hardware, software, user and policy point of view.”

The ability to hack into cars has already been shown when Sahas Katta took control of his father’s Tesla S using an app he created using Google Glass.

DARPA has also shown that it is possible to hack into a car and control it using a smartphone - as can be seen below. 

Manufacturers and technology companies are in the process of developing products which will allow the next generation of vehicles to communicate with their environments.

This includes the roads themselves, traffic lights and more.

However according to Rakotonirainy, the security levels of the cars we drive need to improve significantly before they should start talking objects in the street.

He said: “The security protection on cars is virtually non-existent, it is at a level of protection that a desktop computer system had in the 1980s, the basic security requirements such as authentication, confidentiality and integrity are not strong.”

“What this means is that, as vehicles become more and more connected and autonomous, with the ability to communicate to other vehicles and infrastructure through wireless networks, the threat of cyber attack increases putting people’s safety and security at risk.”


However the ‘hacking’ of cars does not have to be seen as a negative, as has been shown by one Kickstarter campaign that has received more than double the amount of funding it set out to achieve

It allows a user to access all the data their car produces and senses about its performance.

Almost all cars are fitted with a CAN BUS, which is a message-based protocol that carries data about the car.

The developer Derek Kuschel hacked into his own car to separate the signal and collect all the data.

This can allow developers to build software to monitor the data their cars produce and may lead to people being able to drive more efficiently and use their cars in an environmentally friendly manner, as well as sensing when issues may be about to arise.

Featured image courtesy of Google. Image two courtesy of Michael Himbeault via Flickr/Creative Commons. 



VIDEO: Swarm of autonomous micro-robots buzz around each other

These micro-robots are swarming around each other in the same way that honeybees move.

They were created for just £25 each, measure 25cm in diameter and are able to travel at 35cm/s, say researchers at the University of Lincoln who created them

Long-range infrared sensors allow the little bots to communicate with their direct neighbours at a range of 0.5cm to 2m.

Three sensors and an independent processor enable them to avoid obstacles that are in their way – including each other.

They could help the development of swarm robotics, which has been said to have applications in mining or agriculture, where crops may need to be collected.


Previous research into swarm robotics has mostly been based on algorithms and computer-generated models.

This is because of the cost, space and resources needed to assemble a large collection of the robots.

The Lincoln scientists hope their cheap robots will allow more people to practically research the potential of swarm robotics.

The largest swarm of robots to date was created at Harvard University earlier this year and included more than 1,000 robots forming complex shapes.

The work from the University of Lincoln was based on an open-platform system called Colias that can be used to help investigate collective behaviours and applied to swarm applications.

“This concept allows for the coordination of simple physical robots in order to cooperatively perform tasks,” explains Farshad Arvin, who worked on the project.

“The decentralised control of robotic swarms can be achieved by providing well-defined interaction rules for each individual robot.

“Colias has been used in a bio-inspired scenario, showing that it is extremely responsive to being used to investigate collective behaviours. Our aim was to imitate the bio-inspired mechanisms of swarm robots and to enable all research groups, even with limited funding, to perform such research with real robots.”

Featured image courtesy of University of Lincoln



Lifelong virtual assistants will know your most intimate secrets

Virtual assistants will eventually play such an important role in our lives that they will be written into our wills, according to Chris Brauer, co-director of CAST at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Speaking about the newly published results of a research project between Goldsmiths and Mindshare at the Re.Work Technology Summit in London today, Brauer described how the virtual assistants (VAs) of the near future would play such a vital role in our lives from childhood to death that many will become reliant on them.

While the proto-VAs of today, such as Apple’s Siri, tie the user into one predecided range of services, these future versions will be modular, enabling users to tailor them exactly to their needs using tools developed by a wide variety of organisations.

They will be able to use a mix of tools including emotional recognition systems, natural language recognition and beacon technology to do everything from keep on top of your health to manage your finances.

The result will be a VA that knows you intimately, and which may even use algorithmic discretion to make decisions for you.

“In theory the virtual assistant becomes something that knows you better than you know yourself,” said Brauer, adding that the first VAs would appear 4-5 years from now.


The report, which has been developed following an extensive ethnographic research study, found a wide range of areas in people’s lives where the aid of a virtual assistant would be welcome.

It will be able to aid with community and social activities, such as telling you a friend is nearby and arranging meetups with family or mates by liasing with their own VAs.

It will also be able to help with finances by monitoring your budget and spending or letting you know when an apparently good deal is actually a bit of a rip-off.

When you are out and about, the VA’s access to crowd knowledge will help you find the best restaurant, and environmental sensors will be used to tell you when you need more suncream or to take precautions against pollution.

One of the biggest values of VAs will be their collective intelligence.

VAs will be able to tap into collective information to, for example, find the best way to aid a sufferer of depression.


The amount we rely on our VAs will inevitably result in some of us getting them implanted straight into our bodies, a step which will feel increasingly normal.

Brauer likened this to the way we have moved from syncing devices using cables to over wireless – in a similar way it will be largely seen as a step to improve productivity.

“We will see implants with this, no question,” he said.

Featured image courtesy of Betmari via Flickr/Creative Commons. Image two courtesy of Glogger. 



Water-based nuclear batteries could power spacecraft for 100 years

Spacecraft may be able to use technology that lasts for up to 100 years, in harsh environments and low temperatures, thanks to a new water-based nuclear battery.

The new battery using betavoltaics, a battery technology that generates electricity from radiation, has been developed in the US that could help to provide a lengthy power source for extended missions in to space.

As well as this the technology has been touted as a solution implantable medical devices, which would not need to be removed frequently due to the battery being low.

The battery created, at the University of Missouri, US, uses a radioactive isotope that boosts electrochemical energy in a water-based solution.

A nanostructured titanium dioxide electrode then collects and converts energy into electrons.

Jae W. Kwon, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and nuclear engineering, said that using water increases the possibilities of the battery.

“Water acts as a buffer and surface plasmons created in the device turned out to be very useful in increasing its efficiency.

“The ionic solution is not easily frozen at very low temperatures and could work in a wide variety of applications including car batteries and, if packaged properly, perhaps spacecraft.”

NASA who is also researching the betavoltaic technology, as well as alphavoltaic technology, said they could last up to 100 years when fully developed.

“These small devices would be capable of providing low levels of power for an extremely long period of time (i.e., >100 years) and would be capable of operating over a wide range of operational environments with little if any loss of performance, most notably at extremely low temperatures (i.e., < 100 K), but also in harsh biological environments.”


The idea of using betaoltaics has been around for some time and was even used in early pacemakers.

The university has not announced details of the power output or conversion rates of the new battery at present.

However the technology, which was available at the time, could not allow the devices to be efficient and cheaper lithium-ion batteries eventually replaced them. Now, the new advancements could be the doors are re-opened for the radiation powered devices.

Kwon said: “Betavoltaics, a battery technology that generates power from radiation, has been studied as an energy source since the 1950s.

“Controlled nuclear technologies are not inherently dangerous. We already have many commercial uses of nuclear technologies in our lives including fire detectors in bedrooms and emergency exit signs in buildings.”

A study from 1973 discussed the potential for betavoltaic energy conversion.

It said: “Interest in low-power, long-life power sources has been significantly increased in recent years, primarily because of the emergence of clearly defined applications.”

The paper from L.C. Olsen suggested that the most likely uses would be for military and biomedical uses.

Research conducted by Sara Harrison at Stanford University, in 2013, said that the nuclear batteries will have significant advantages over traditional batteries.

She wrote: “It is well established that conventional electrochemical batteries, despite their widespread use in electronic devices, have limited longevity and a strong tendency to degrade under extreme environmental conditions.”

Featured Image courtesy of NASA



Factor issue 4: Revolution, cannabis and Aubrey de Grey

Issue 4 of Factor magazine, our digital-only science and tech monthly, is out now on iPad and the web.

After travelling in to space last month, we’re now firmly grounded and looking at the revolution in technology, which is turning us all into makers and changing how we live, consume and produce.

We speak to legendary scientist Aubrey de Grey about his mission to fix ageing by giving people medicine to rejuvenate their bodies to the state they were in during early adulthood.

In further medical advancements we look at how medical treatments are helping soldiers to regrow and regenerate and ask how they could be applied to civilian treatments.

Digital currencies around the world are growing at an alarmingly speedy rate. We ask if the cypto-currencies that are hitting the highstreet will ever be able to challenge the power of the dollar.

We also look at how 3D printers are moving out of their role as plastic junk-making machines to personalise manufacturing and medicine. We look through the latest developments from 3D printing enthusiasts and see how their work could change consumerism as we know it.

Following on from this there’s an in depth look at how the maker revolution has reconnected us with the handmade.

Plus, there’s a look at how public opinion on cannabis has changed and how virtual reality could transform the internet into the multiverse.

As well as all this there’s the latest news, reviews and much more in the completely free edition of Factor Magazine.

Get Factor Magazine for iPad today by downloading the app or read it online with any modern desktop or laptop browser.



Squid skin: Nanoparticle screens lay foundations for self-camouflaging metamaterials

A technology has been developed that will allow us to create camouflaging metamaterials that can detect colours and automatically blend into a background.

The new full-color display, which has been developed by researchers Rice University, US, uses aluminium nanoparticles to create hues that are found in TV and computer screens.

The researchers developed the technology after setting out to copy the skin camouflaging abilities of squid.

Once materials such as this are created, it may be possible for them to be used to help camoflauge high-tech military vehicles or even be sued for applications in urban environments to hide unsightly objects.

The researchers hope to combine the display technology with others developed by the team, which can sense light and are also able to display patterns on large polymer sheets.

Members of the team have previously published research that shows it is possible to create flexible polymer displays that can change colour to match their surroundings.

Naomi Halas from the university said: “We hope to eventually bring all of these technologies together to create a new material that can sense light in full color and react with full-color camouflage displays.”


Pixels on the display, which measure five microns in size, are around 40 times smaller than those pixels that are used on commercial LCD displays.

Aluminium nanorods were arranged using an electron beam to create a regular arrangement of the rods.

Each pixel contains several hundred nanorods. The researchers were able to control these by varying the length of the rods and also the spaces between them.


The team said they are basing their work on squid, and similar creatures, because their skins are able to adapt to the conditions they are in.

“Our goal is to learn from these amazing animals so that we could create new materials with the same kind of distributed light-sensing and processing abilities that they appear to have in their skins.

“We know cephalopods have some of the same proteins in their skin that we have in our retinas, so part of our challenge, as engineers, is to build a material that can ‘see’ light the way their skin sees it, and another challenge is designing systems that can react and display vivid camouflage patterns,” Halas said.

Image one and two courtesy of Rice University



Issue four preview: Factor Magazine takes on revolution

Technology is disrupting almost every aspect of our lives, from our money and health to the way we access music and how our possessions are made.

The latest issue of Factor Magazine, out tomorrow, challenges all these issues and looks at how our lives may change because of the work being completed in the fields.

After last month’s space issue (if you haven’t read it then it can be found here), this time we are bringing things a little closer to home and looking at revolution.

In this issue we speak to legendary scientist Aubrey de Grey to find out about his mission to fix aging and hear how he is going to achieve this.

de Grey also explains his thoughts on how his work could change the wider society as a whole.


We also look at how 3D printers are moving out of their role as plastic junk-making machines to personalise manufacturing and medicine. We look through the latest developments from 3D printing enthusiasts and see how their work could change consumerism as we know it.

There is an in-depth look at how the maker revolution has reconnected us with the handmade, and we also look at the impact the digital revolution has had on the music industry.


The future of Bitcoin and other digital currencies is currently up in the air, so we look at whether cryptocurrency really is the future of money.

Plus there’s a look at how public opinion on cannabis has changed, how virtual reality could transform the internet into the multiverse and how the US Army is using regenerative medicine.

As well as all this there’s the latest news, reviews and much more in the completely free edition of Factor Magazine – out later this week.

Featured image courtesy of SHARE-Conference via Flickr/Creative Commons


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