Security Matters: Why We Need To Safeguard Ourselves From The Potentially Deadly Consequences In The Race For Autonomy In recent months, we've seen a growing concern around cybersecurity and its far-reaching implications in autonomous systems.

By Lee Drinkwater

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The development of autonomous or self-driving vehicles and vessels is experiencing something of a global boom, across multiple industries. Indeed, the abundance of pre-existing electronic hardware and software applications is a tempting choice for eager entities to capture market share, and harried engineers to execute on those aspirations.

However, desktop computer architecture and associated operating system software were not designed for this purpose, and are instead being geared towards ease of third-party integration. We are all familiar with the installation of "drivers" for peripherals such as printers and monitors as well as third party software applications to make things happen. It is not difficult to see that these software bundles give the casual user a "black box" experience– you don't need to know what's under the hood, so to speak.

Having said that, we've all become accustomed to installing anti-virus software to prevent unwanted intrusion from malicious software– this points to just one area of vulnerability when we install software from a third party: security! Would you want to be in a vehicle that hasn't had its recent "patch," or even a vehicle that needs a "patch"?

I'm reminded of a quote from a certain Dr. Ian Malcolm, the "chaotician" in the Jurassic Park movies: "I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here- it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done, and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now, you're selling it!"

And well, we all know what happened at Jurassic Park now, don't we!

In recent months, we've seen a growing concern around cybersecurity and its far-reaching implications in autonomous systems. A recent announcement from US intelligence officials warned of five technologies where cybersecurity threats were of national importance, and one of those listed was autonomous systems.

At my company, AS2 Systems, we saw, very early on, the weaknesses inherent in adopting operating system, and we have seen first-hand the problems faced in the industry. Apart from the obvious risks like viruses and hacking, there are additional layers of hardware and software required when running an operating system, thereby offering potential failure points, and yet, they are unnecessary for control of an autonomous system.

By utilizing a system on a chip (SoC) approach and using what is known as bare metal programming, we eliminate all of the above issues. Hardware peripherals are housed directly on the chip and no external software is necessary. Our electronics are designed in-house, and we write the software (often referred to as firmware), and therefore have total control and security. Any attempt to copy the software will instantly erase the chip.

Typical Commercially Available Control Systems

AS2 Systems - System on a Chip Technology

Aside from security and safety, the operational performance is notable; ultra-low latency in control and telemetry, including video latency, a very important safety consideration when operating a fast vehicle or vessel in a crowded area. SOC tech is also significantly better when using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning interfaces. Incidentally, Apple recently moved to SOC tech with its M1 ARM tech for all their new MacBooks.

We're trying to promote innovation and progression in this industry, and we like to consider ourselves a pioneering element in that respect. The removal of human endangerment has to be the number one consideration for this industry as it rapidly moves forward. We must address the fundamental base elements, in tandem with the new sexy AI. After all, you can't build a house on a foundation of twigs!

Related: Startup Spotlight: UAE-Based AS2 Systems Offers Cutting-Edge Technologies That Can Help Secure Maritime Autonomy

Lee Drinkwater

Co-founder and CEO, AS2 Systems

Lee Drinkwater is the co-founder and CEO of AS2 Systems, an innovative, forward looking technology company, focused on cutting-edge autonomous systems for use in the defence, security, and commercial sectors. Lee is a veteran and business leader with over 25 years of experience in the defense and security industry, the last eight of which has been dedicated specifically to unmanned and autonomous vehicle and vessels. 

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