By Parson Thru
“Ok, are we on?”
“Good morning, Derby. Can you hear me?”
“Good morning, Alan. Yes. Loud and clear, thank you.”
“Hi, Philip. Who do we have at your end?”
“Quick round the table?”
“I think so, yes.”
“Ok. Well, there’s me, Philip Jones, Director of Investigations.”
A general “Hi Philip.” from the room in London.
Another voice “Tony Scatterley, Emerging Technologies Research.”
The image on the London screen panned around to show Tony Scatterley sitting beside Philip Jones.
“Hey, that’s pretty neat! You’ve got one of those swivelling cameras!”
“Yes.” Philip Jones swung back into view.
“Well, I’m afraid the budget doesn’t stretch to that at Department. How come yours does? We might have to look at that next April.”
Laughter from both ends.
Once the introductions were over, Alan Wainscot got down to business.
“So, has everyone read the report?”
A general mutter and nodding heads.
“Ok. Has anyone not read it? Can I have a confirmation from everyone, for the record?”
Each attendee in turn confirmed they’d read the report.
“And are we all looking at the same version? Mine’s folio: DoT IB, slash, Investigations, slash, KSI, slash, 2018, 221. I’ve got version zero point F here. All on the same version?”
Both ends confirmed.
“Ok. Let’s get straight to the meat. Preliminary Technical Findings, page 4. This seems a bit left of arc. Where’s the evidence, Philip?”
“Well, the tech investigations team has been working with manufacturers for some time on safety aspects of autonomous vehicle software, from both the stability and security points of view. First point is that this is an emerging technology and quite novel. Second, the regulatory framework for operating the technology lags behind the technology itself – which is quite normal. We have a similar issue with unmanned air vehicles in the private domain.”
“Ok, Philip, all of that taken into account, what about the specific case?
“Well, we have to recognise that we don’t have the technical skills in-house at this level of innovation. We’ve had to rely somewhat on the manufacturer and on bought-in resource, whose background is Industry. Tony, can you take this up, please? Tony’s the author of the report, Alan.”
The image on the London screen swung to Tony Scatterley.
“Hi Alan, all. The key point in the preliminary findings is that the manufacturer has examined the firmware in the vehicle and found unauthorised modifications relating to external object recognition and vehicle control.”
"External object recognition. Just to be clear, we're talking about tracking an individual based on mobile phone location, yes?"
"That's correct, Alan, yes."
“Goodness me. Any idea who might have done that? How might it have happened?”
“Not yet, Alan, no. The main line of enquiry is a remote code insertion. The vehicles are permanently connected to the Internet for information access and firmware updates.”
“You’re saying the car might have been hacked?”
“We’re not certain, but that’s the main thrust of the enquiry right now.”
“If I may, Alan?... Martin Giles here, Tony. Industry Liaison. What level of contact do you have with the manufacturer?”
“Usual, Martin. Product Safety – Quality. Technical contacts.”
“The report is marked COMMERCIAL – CONFIDENTIAL. Does that pertain to all the communication between you and the manufacturer?”
“Yes Martin. It does. We’re all very aware of the sensitivity.”
“Good point.” Alan Wainscot resumed. “Can we all be clear that we don’t want to set hares running? Especially as the findings are preliminary at this stage. I’d like to remind you that Number 10 is keen for the UK to become a leading player in this field.”
“Understood at this end.” Philip Jones confirmed.
“How long before we have some certainty on the findings? I’m going to come under pressure here for a final report. If the press get wind of this, they’ll have a field day. Philip?”
“We’re trying to get as much traction under the investigation as possible, Alan.”
“What about Industry? Are they doing their own?”
“One has to be realistic, Alan. They’re probably a step or two ahead of us. They have all the resource.”
Alan Wainscot exhaled through pursed lips.
“Ok. We are where we are. What’s the police interest?”
“It’s an RTA at the moment. We’re in contact, but nothing more.”
“I’m sorry, who was that? I can see you, but I don’t remember your name.”
“Peter Hinch, Alan.”
“No problem. Until we have submissible evidence, we can’t pursue anything through Road Traffic regulations. It’s doubtful there’s anything specific in Regs relating to the preliminary findings anyway. Type Approval, or something around roadworthiness is about all we have. Police forces have generally looked for a driving without due care and attention angle in similar cases.”
“Ok. Can we try to impress on the manufacturer the need to resolve this quickly? They must be aware it’s in their interest, too. Martin, are we liaising with the specific manufacturer or Industry-wide?”
“Oh, specific, Alan. I don’t think the manufacturer in question would thank us for sharing this with competitors.”
“Makes sense, we’d lose their trust.”
“Philip, are we looking at a recall?”
“Not yet, Alan. Preliminary investigation and discussion stage. Things are very dynamic, obviously, and we’ll contact you through normal channels should we need to.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Martin’s office in the first instance, please.”
“Ok, Alan. Noted.”
“Ok. Anything else from our end? …. Everyone’s shaking their heads. Derby?”
“No. Nothing from here.”
“Ok. Dominic will distribute notes, won’t you, Dominic?”
“Yes, Alan. I’ll send them round today.”
“Marvellous! Good old Dom. Ok, thanks, all. Keep the pressure on. Speak to you soon.”
“Thanks, Alan. Bye from us.”
The screen went dark. Alan Wainscot looked around the table.
“Are we disconnected?... Bloody hell. We need to watch this like a hawk. David, keep your hook into the Derby lot, will you? This could be dynamite.”